Top Chef, Robin Top Chef, Robin

Top Chef's Robin Leventhal wasn't exactly the most popular among her fellow cheftestants, and she has a theory about why. chatted with the self-taught 43-year-old to find out what triggered her tears during judging, why she felt "victimized," and who she thought was the ring leader of chefs who "loved to hate" her. 

Top Chef's Mike Isabella: I took offense to judges calling me cocky Why did you get so emotional during judging?
Robin Leventhal: It was me being frustrated with myself that I pushed myself to do a culinary dish I have little experience with. I was beating myself up because I knew better and was disappointed in myself. If you knew better, why do you think you made a dish you weren't familiar with?
Robin: Well, it was down to the best of the best chefs. I didn't think making safe food was going to dazzle the judges, and the safe food is what I know. I wanted to wow the judges. It was that simple. And I don't feel wowed by my food I've been making for the last five years in my restaurant. It felt too safe. After hearing the judges say they were basically repulsed by Eli's dish, do you think you deserved to go?
Robin: I don't feel it was unfair. Eli challenged the flavor profile a little more, granted it was an unaesthetic and texturally repulsive dish. Maybe he reflected his willingness to take a chance. I was making panna cotta and the judges felt it was something I should nail and bang out at this point in my career. I know the texture of the panna cotta was too firm, but I was happy with a lot of how the dish turned out. But it wasn't perfect and you need perfect. A lot of the chefs wanted you out. What was that like?
Robin: You saw reality TV with a big dose of reality. Whether they all would have hated me in a normal context is hard to say. They wanted to make me the scapegoat. I just really put my distance and tried to stay away from their juvenility and rise above it and be strong. I did feel victimized by the chefs. Why do you think they targeted you?
Robin: I'm pretty intense, I'm not going to deny that. I take life very seriously and I like to have fun, but not absurd and stupid fun. I didn't embrace a lot of their shenanigans, and that made me uncool. I didn't want to break things. I didn't want to be malicious. There was a destructive energy I did not want to be a part of. That's not my spirit. I did my Pilates and wrote in my journal. I felt like a total nerd, but that's how I release my frustration. And a lot of my frustrations came from other chefs. I spent my time taking deep breaths, letting go and ignoring. Who would you say was the ring leader of this anti-Robin club.
Robin: [Laughs] That would be Jersey Turnpike — Mr. Mike Isabella. He really loved to hate me. I think it was just convenient more than anything. We both have loud voices and loud personalities, so I think he just wanted to put me down in my place. I stood up for myself, but then I just stopped. I was like, "I'm just going to keep my mouth shut and let it go." What are you up to these days?
Robin: I'm putting my art lifestyle back to the forefront of my goal and doing design work that will hopefully transform into a dishware line. As a ceramics artist, I never really made functional ceramics. My pieces were sculptural. But now I'm really embracing the notion integrating food and the dining experience.