'Top Chef: World All-Stars' Victoire Gouloubi Responds to Being Called an "Inspiration"
Top Chef is back in the kitchen! Every week, Parade’s Mike Bloom interviews the latest global all-star chef told to pack their knives and leave London.
There is truly no one like Victoire Gouloubi. Coming from the Congo to Italy, she was harassed and looked down upon for her race, but she turned those lemons into limoncello to become a Top Chef winner. She had the biggest hurdle to overcome of this season's cast, having only learned English four months ago. But she arrived in London to show that cooking is a universal language, with the particular goal of highlighting African cuisine for the uninformed. And, despite failing during her first challenge by attempting a 30-minute risotto, she was able to pick herself up and accomplish that goal. The first half of the season saw Victoire consistently impressing and educating the judges with her cuisine and culture, and her story caused her competition to call her an inspiration.
If the first half of the season was fast, unfortunately for Victoire, the second half was furious. When she attempted to showcase her own take on traditional African flavors, it was not met well, as technical faux pas overwhelmed the best of intentions. Most recently, the chefs were tasked with creating an Indian-style thali for Asma Khan, who Victoire had previously met during a National Carbonara Day event. But she seemed to be lost in the sauce when it came to the thali. Concentrating on so many elements caused her to overcook her rice, and the judges disagreed with her approach to her salad. Gail Simmons reasoned that, unlike the others in the bottom, Victoire failed to provide anything "undeniably delicious." And so they said ta-ta to Victoire's thali, as she ruminated on what she called the proudest experience of her life.
Read on to hear Victoire's thoughts on her time in the game, and check out Last Chance Kitchen to watch Victoire and other eliminated chefs fight for redemption and a chance to get back into the competition.
Related: Everything You Need to Know About Top Chef Season 20
What made you decide to return for Top Chef: World All-Stars?
I love to fight. All of my life, it's the fight. When I was born, I started to work after four years. My mother and my father always say, "You're a woman who likes to fight. So your life is a fight." When I hear I can compete on Top Chef: World All-Stars, for me, it was an amazing opportunity to share with the American people and have with all of the world how amazing our culture in Africa is.
That being said, how nervous were you going in after only knowing English for four months?
I was terrified. To make a competition without the language, it's a problem for all people. I think nobody can do what I do in this competition at my English level. I started learning English with one of the applications on my cell phone, and I reading, listening to music, and reading and writing aloud while watching TV. My first son said to me, "Mommy, you need a video. How is it possible all these years people don't speak English?" I said it wasn't my first obligation to learn English when I go to school. For me, it was more important to get a degree and to do better in the school. It wasn't to study English.
Do you have a better understanding after competing in an English-language season like Top Chef: World All-Stars?
Now it's a little bit easier to listen to people around the world. It's I will I want to continue to listen to English, because I think it's one of the passports in the world. When you speak English fluently, you can go everywhere.
What differences did you discover between Top Chef: Italy and American Top Chef?
The difference is amazing! It's like the ocean. Completely different. When I competed in Top Chef: Italy, the people in Italy weren't happy to see me in the E.U. The people in Italy are a little closed-minded. So you receive a lot of messages from the haters like, "You're a monkey. You can't cook. Go back to your forest." And all of the competitors in the competition, they don't give me the respect. As an example, when I was cooking and I was presenting my dish to the judges, they said, "It's a little bit difficult to taste this kind of food because we prefer Italian food."
Yes, I live in Italy. But I'm not Italian! I can make my recipe with some ingredients from Italy. But it's not my cuisine. If you want to see an Italian chef, you can search for one. I'm not an Italian chef. I'm an African woman in Europe. And the difference with Top Chef for America...yesterday, I received another request of marriage. (Laughs.) I receive a lot. For me, it was just a big surprise. I never imagined this kind of love from American people. Just amazing. The competitors were so professional, very professional, and the judges were amazing.
The season, unfortunately, doesn't start as amazingly for you, when you fail to make risotto in the very first challenge. How did that affect the way you approached things moving forward?
To make risotto is not difficult. I make a lot of risotto here in Italy. When the risotto wasn't good, I said, "Maybe Chef Tom doesn't know about Italian cuisine." (Laughs.) And this is my opinion because I know perfectly how I can make risotto. I live in Lombardia. It's the region where you can find any kind of risotto. I made a lot of risotto here in Italy, with different kinds of recipes with different results. So when I didn't win the first competition, I said, "I think they want something different." I had to understand what the principal ingredient they want was. They were looking for the flavor, for the technique, for the originality of ingredients. So, yes, I learned something from the first challenge.
Talk to me about your relationship with Nicole. You meet working on that first challenge, and you're in tears by the time she leaves.
I think Nicole is an amazing chef. Of all the chefs, I would say the biggest chef to give me emotion and a sense of competition was Begoña. Now with Nicole, she has a lot of experience. I think, to cook, it's a mission. But it's not the competition in real life. It's the way to educate people. It's a way to give good emotion to people. Because we don't save a life, we aren't a doctor. But with Nicole, I found this character with her. She was always taking some time to accept to explain to me this word or this kind of food or if I understood something Padma said. When we were in the competition, I think every chef doesn't have time to explain to the other chefs, because if you don't understand the challenge, that's the first way to go home. So for them, it was a joy. But for Nicole, she's the mother of the kitchen.
Let's get into some memorable moments from the season. You have an allergic reaction when your team uses walnuts during the stadium challenge. What was that experience like?
Oh my god. With the competition in the stadium, what a surprise to compete again in a team. I saw I was with Nicole and Amar, and speaking to each other was difficult. They don't a lot they don't have a lot of time to explain to me what we can do, or I can explain what I want to do. When we start to cook, I don't explain to the other chefs that I was allergic to walnuts. So in the kitchen, Nicole saw the walnuts and she stopped to cook with them. When I saw them, I said, "I can't touch them because I'm so allergic." And she said, "Really? But I'm not touching you!" But I just smell it a little bit, and that was it.
Let's move on to happier occasions. How much fun did you have getting to cook in a challenge themed after your favorite movies in the Fast and the Furious franchise?
That's my dream! I was dreaming to meet Vin Diesel. Whenever we cook, we usually cook for one person or a small group like our family or friends. So this was my first time in this competition I had a lot of fun. It was a lot of adrenaline, just amazing. Buddha and Nicole are both amazing chefs. And I say, "We are going to want this competition." So it was a joy to compete with them.
Let's get into this challenge from the last episode. What was your reaction to finding out you'd be cooking for Asma Khan, who you had met previously?
When I think about Asma, my thoughts start to go like, "Boom, boom, boom." She's an amazing woman. She's making a lot of jobs for women who had a lot of problems from India and London. And when I discovered that Asma was our judge, I said, "Oh my God, I can't do this." I never cooked Indian food. But this is the competition; I don't have another opportunity. So I want to do my best.
How tough was that challenge? It really seemed difficult to manage all of those components well.
All those challenges were tough for me because, from the beginning, I didn't understand them very well. I don't speak or hear English fluently. So to start, I am a loser, because I have this problem with the language. I think cooking in this kind of challenge was important because we are chefs. We have to know how to cook with different spices. I was born in Africa. We use a lot of spices too. I know how to use spice; it's not news to me. But in this challenge, something went wrong. It wasn't my day, and I didn't have a second chance.
You decided not to season your salad, feeling it would mimic what you experienced in trying the thali. But that lack of seasoning seemed to stick out for the judges, especially Padma. What was your reaction to that?
So when we tried the different dishes of the thali at Asma's restaurant, the salad for me wasn't seasoned. And I spoke with other chefs before the challenge, and some of them said the salad wasn't seasoned either. So when the judges said it didn't have seasoning and it wasn't good, I say, "Oh, maybe next time I can get one kg of salt, one kg of curry. Maybe the dish can be good." (Laughs.)
With this challenge, we started to cook different kinds of recipes. It's Indian cuisine. It's not Congolese cuisine. It's not Italian cuisine. It's not French cuisine. It's not American cuisine. Some chefs do good. They cook very well, like Amar. But I think a lot of chefs can have a lot of difficulty cooking this kind of challenge. It can be important to give the chefs some spicy ingredients and tell them to make a home menu and to interpret this kind of menu with some Indian spices. When you try to make it different, you can miss a lot of things.
Sara recently said on Instagram that you and Gabri had a conflict in the stew room during this episode where things got heated. Can you talk to me more about that?
I think Sara is a good cook. But she's like a parrot. She just talks and talks and talks. Oh my god. You see me; I don't like to speak a lot. In the competition, it's good to share things. We can have some conflict, but maybe this is just a misunderstanding. But Sara was just like a parrot. No, no, no. (Laughs.)
Were you surprised to get eliminated over Buddha and Gabri?
No, it wasn't a surprise. I know that you can make a small mistake and maybe remain to get another opportunity. But I knew I didn't give my best in the thali challenge. So I was sure that I was going home.
You got to tell your story to your fellow cheftestants, which hit very hard for them. Buddha even called you an inspiration. What was it like to see such positive feedback from your competition?
I don't have words. It's a complex question. Our journey in this competition was a meeting with different kinds of stories and different kinds of backgrounds, and sharing our story together was just amazing. I'm just grateful to the people who think that I'm an inspiration. If I think about my life, sometimes I start to cry because I really, really saw different kinds of things in my life. I saw the violence. I saw the poverty, the sickness, the wars. But I'm here. And when I got the opportunity to be on Top Chef: World All-Stars and hear from the other chefs that I'm an inspiration. I just want to say I'm happy and thank you.
On that note, what's been the reaction from communities in Africa from your journey on television?
Oh my god. If I can say something, at this moment, you're giving me an amazing opportunity to share, to share myself, to share my story, to share what I do in the Top Chef competition. I think it's not impossible for a lot of women in Africa to become amazing chefs. In Africa, a lot of women are cooking. It's not a job; it's an obligation. Because African women should know how to cook, should have degrees, and should have a good face for the next groom. But it's not a job; it's not really a profession.
I just want to say to the African women--and to the men, too--if you have patience, and you can hear in yourself that you want to cook and you want to share your cuisine, you should study. Because to be a professional chef means to study. It's not like, "I can start in my kitchen with some tomato and salt and I'm a chef." No, it's a lot of work. To have a mission to be a great chef doesn't mean to have a one-star Michelin restaurant or win some prize. To be a great chef means to have a mission with maybe one ingredient or maybe with a suitability of our world, to change the world, to support a lot of people who are working, to educate young people on how they can come in the kitchen to become a great chef or sommelier. But you want to start to study to become a good chef.
Next, check out our interview with Nicole Gomes, who was eliminated in Top Chef: World Al-Stars Episode 9.