"Trust me. It's game on!"
Chef Ludo Lefebvre is psyched for viewers to watch Tuesday's episode of The Taste (8/7c, ABC), when the culinary reality series shifts from the audition to competition rounds. Now that he and his fellow mentors — Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson and Brian Malarkey — have chosen their four-person teams of home cooks and professional chefs, it's time to pit them against each other. Beyond the increased heat in the kitchen, the possibility of eliminating one of their own team members during the blind taste-test drove the mentors to drink.
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"I was not expecting this show to be so emotional and to be so competitive," Lefebvre tells TVGuide.com. "Oh my God, I thought I was back on Top Chef Masters or Iron Chef. Here we go again! It was a challenge. Nigella I know was so stressed sometimes on the set that she'd come to my trailer and we'd do a shot of tequila, Don Julio. With Tony too sometimes we drank some bourbon. Tony also liked gin and tonics. Brian drank a lot of beer. So yeah, we all drank."
This week as part of the Comfort Food challenge, guest chef Gabrielle Hamilton -- who owns New York City's Prune restaurant and is the author of the best-selling memoir Blood, Bones and Butter — serves the contestants and mentors a dish accompanied by a personal story about that dish. The mentors will then spend an hour with their teams to create their own one-bite comfort foods, and from among those, the mentor selects one spoon to represent the team. The team's spoon that Hamilton selects as the winner will then receive two rewards going into the final challenge: the cook/chef who made the spoon has immunity and the remaining teammates get the benefit of Hamilton's guidance in the kitchen to cook their elimination-round bites.
"After the mentors get to taste all the spoons, blind-tasting, we are going to pick some spoons to go home and the winning spoon," says Lefebvre. "It's two people [eliminated] this week. Sometimes it's three. So you never know. So you never know what you're going to try, so you can send somebody from your team home."
Check out the rest of our interview with Lefebvre, and be sure to watch the exclusive video below, in which the French chef reveals his favorite American foods:
In the first audition show, you offered the contestant Renee from Chicago a job if she came to Los Angeles, even though you didn't pick her for your team. What has happened since? Did she contact you?
Ludo Lefebvre: When I tried her spoon, I really loved it. Everything was cooked perfectly, but it was missing a little seasoning. I was really sad that nobody picked her, so that's why I proposed to her to come to work with me. I did an interview with her on the phone. Actually she's coming next week to cook with me for a few days because I have a private party to do for a new restaurant that I'm opening. I'm a man of my word. If I said I was going to hire her, I want to give her the chance. She deserves it.
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On the second night of auditions, the meatless/dairy-less spoons failed to impress the judges. Could a vegan or vegetarian chef succeed on this show?
Lefebvre: It was just not good enough. Vegetables are very difficult to cook. It's more difficult to cook a carrot than to cook a piece of pork because pork is good already, but a carrot is a carrot. If I had a good vegetable dish, I would pick it. And don't get me wrong, I love vegetables. I love to eat carrots with the perfect spice and salt. I'm obsessed with carrots. I love everything about them.
All four of your team members created audition spoons with seafood. Is seafood prevalent because it's the easiest thing to make in a limited period of time?
Lefebvre: I would say no. Seafood is not easy to do. But we did have a lot of shrimp and a lot of scallops. I guess that day when we went shopping the scallop was on sale. It was a good price? I don't know, but it was a lot of scallop. Scallops are not that easy to cook, to cook it very crispy and medium rare. I was surprised to see so much seafood.
Are the home cooks more nervous during the competition than the professional chefs or vice versa?
Lefebvre: On my team, the home cook was less [stressed-out]. The professional chefs were nervous. If you are a professional chef, you have a lot of things to prove, you don't want to get beat by a home cook. Trust me, there are some egos on the team. Some chefs think they know everything. Sometimes they don't listen to me, so I get mad. It's my first job as a chef, when I'm in the kitchen, it's to teach my staff how to cook. That's why they work with me. So when I'm with my team on TV on The Taste, it's exactly the same way. I want to show them new techniques, something they never did before, to pull them out of their comfort zone.
A lot of fans of the show have commented on the fact that you and Nigella have great chemistry and are always flirting. I know you're both married, so what's going on there?
Lefebvre: Nigella had her own show on E! Entertainment 10 years ago. She was so sexy! She still is so sexy. But I was in love with her. So just to be next to her was so exciting, and I was nervous too. So why wouldn't I want to flirt with her? She's cute, she's sexy and you should see the way she puts the spoon in her mouth. And she's fun and she knows a lot about food. Better watch out for her on the show because, trust me, she knows what is good food. Yes, I flirt with her, but I want to be very close to my enemy. [Laughs]
Was the rivalry even more pronounced between you and Chef Malarkey going into the competition rounds? You took three of the chefs he wanted for his team.
Lefebvre: I have nothing against him, but he's always screaming my name. I mean, the guy is obsessed with me. I don't know why. He really wants to beat me. I think maybe because I win three fights against him and now he has something to prove to me. But Brian has a good palate too. We picked those same three contestants, and I also almost picked one that ended up on his team: Kristianne. The scallop with the corn puree.
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How does your experience with pop-up restaurants (like the ones you did on Ludo Bites America or your LudoBites dinners) help you as a mentor?
Lefebvre: When I do a pop-up, I just have two days to open a restaurant. I don't have much time to train my staff. I need to do the recipes in two days. So I'm used to working under pressure. When I do LudoBites, I am very limited sometimes with what I have in the kitchen. I don't always have the best kitchens. When I cooked in the bakery, it's very difficult. So I learned a lot, how to execute my food in a very short period of time to get ready.
You've mentioned before that you have a good relationship with food bloggers. How did that come about and how have they helped you?
Lefebvre: When I started my LudoBites in 2007, I had no way to promote what I was doing. You don't have the time to call the L.A. Times or a magazine and say, "Hey, I'm doing a special event next week." They don't have time to print. But I remember the first week we opened LudoBites, I saw all of these people with cameras. I said to [my wife] Krissy, "Who are these people taking pictures?" It was not very common in 2007, you know? ... So I always say that LudoBites was successful because of bloggers who created a buzz on the Internet. It was crazy. That's why I'm successful now. That's why it's funny that I picked a blogger on my team, Sarah.
If you weren't a chef, what do you think you would do?
Lefebvre: I would be a designer for gardens, a landscape architect. I love plants. Or I'd love to be a painter. I love to paint Basquiat style, Jean-Michel Basquiat. It's very difficult to be a chef because you create one dish and so many people are touching the dish after you. You have no choice; you cannot do everything yourself. Sometimes you create a dish and you teach your staff, but sometimes they make a mistake and the dish is not the way you want it. So we get very, very frustrated. But what I like about when you paint, you're alone. Nobody touches your canvas.
You were recently in Hawaii and learned to cook the local cuisine, but there was one popular ingredient I heard you didn't use on your menu: SPAM. What are your thoughts on SPAM?
Lefebvre: You know, people love SPAM in Hawaii. They grew up with that, I understand. But it's just not my thing. I think it's too salty for me and I don't understand how people love SPAM. I just don't get it. I don't get any inspiration to cook with SPAM. Maybe I'd do a good sandwich croque madame or burger, like when you have a hangover. But not to have a good meal, no.
Are you sick of eating bites out of one spoon now that you've done so many tastings on The Taste?
Lefebvre: A little bit. But a lot of people have asked me, "Chef, if you were a contestant on The Taste, what spoon would you do?" I have no idea. It's so difficult to put one dish in one spoon, to balance. We eat some dish on the show like lasagna or pasta but it wasn't the right amount of pasta or cheese or tomato. So you need to be very smart about what to put on the spoon. It's not that easy.
Watch this exclusive video below in which Lefebvre shares his favorite American foods and tune in for The Taste on Tuesday, 8/7c on ABC:
The Taste's French Chef Ludo Lefebvre: It's Game On!
"Trust me. It's game on!"