For many a diehard Top Chef Seattle fan, last week's challenge results were a bitter dish to swallow, with audience favorite Kristen Kish falling on her chopping knife at judges' table, taking the blame for Josie Smith-Malave's subpar bouillabaisse. But Smith-Malave, a returning contestant from season 2 whose brash ways repeatedly clashed with her competitors in the pressure-cooker environment, wouldn't be able to savor her controversial victory for long: In Wednesday's fried chicken cook-off, her greasy batter-bombs were deemed inedible by an all-star culinary tribunal that included Wolfgang Puck and David Chang, and she was ultimately sent packing. The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Smith-Malave to get her side of the story.
The Hollywood Reporter: Let’s talk about last week’s "restaurant wars" challenge -- obviously one of the most controversial in the ten years I’ve been watching this show.
Josie Smith-Malave: Tell me about it.
THR: You were definitely painted in a way that made it seem as though you were in the wrong. I wanted to give you a chance to defend yourself, tell us what we didn’t see.
Smith-Malave: I think what everyone needs to understand is that there are many hours that you don’t see, so there’s plenty of interaction between the chefs that you aren’t privy to, and you’ll never be. When I sat down to watch that show, it was probably one of the episodes that I was dreading reliving. That whole "restaurant wars" experience made me want to shoot myself in the head. I've had to do plenty of events, set up remote kitchens for catering events. I just feel that through the entire process, I mean, you saw it -- there was a bit of cattiness happening. If that cattiness is the height of what you think happened, multiply that by 20 and then come back at me.
THR: But it did seem like you were not doing what Kristen asked you to do.
Smith-Malave: That’s completely not the truth. And at the judges’ table I make my case, because I’m pretty much attacked the entire time. Let’s call a spade a spade -- had we won, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. The fact that we didn’t win put us in a position where everyone’s flaws rose to the top. There was a lot of sabotaging and it wasn’t from me, believe me. I tried to work with what I got, tried to make it happen in the time, and at one point you might have noticed I seem to be removed from the day. At that point, I was just thinking to myself, "Josie, you just have to get this done. They’re not being very nice right now. Do your thing, work around what you have to work around, make it happen. You’ve said your peace. You’ve already suggested that we pre-plate the dessert and cheese course, because they don’t require any heat, any cooking." This is what every single high-end caterer does. I’ve done a tasting menu before, and when there’s 200 people ordering a tasting menu, it gets hairy.
THR: But this was a restaurant challenge, not catering.
Smith-Malave: No, exactly. But the catering aspect of it, the plating of dessert, that’s a no-brainer.
THR: But that seems off-topic. The issue was the bouillabaisse.
Smith-Malave: Right, well it’s a nine-component dish. Typically in a restaurant when there’s nine components on a dish, there’s three people touching your plate. So to have me cook everything separately and have to plate everything separately without another set of hands -- it was pretty impossible. I don’t think there was anyone there who could have executed it.
THR: You said you were already feeling attacked by the other contestants. Did it get worse after Kristen's elimination?
Smith-Malave: Of course. You’ve seen what they say. No one ever said any of those things to my face, so it all came as a big surprise to me. Like nails on a chalkboard. The comments about "class," which I think are just completely out of line.
THR: You’re referring to comments Brooke [Williamson] made about your choice in table linens.
Smith-Malave: Right. Those weren’t the only colors I chose. The room was a very southwestern color, and it was very pale and I just thought it would be a nice accent on the table. I was just pulling some ideas. You don’t have to attack me and say it’s because I have a lack of class. I mean, give me a break.