by Momar G. Visaya/AJPress
NEW YORK – “Salamat. I hope I did you guys proud. I hope I put someone out there, specially to first generation Americans like me who do not have someone in the media that we can look at,” Dale Talde, the Filipino American chef from Chicago told the Asian Journal in an interview Monday, June 23.
Top Chef, the Bravo reality show which is now on its fourth season, just ended one of its most successful runs.
The show averaged three million viewers weekly and up 28% in adults 18 to 49 from last season. There’s no doubt that it is cable television’s top food show.
One of the show’s resident judges, chef Tom Colicchio said in the reunion episode that this is the strongest group of chefs ever.
Padma Lakshmi, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, shared her thoughts on the show’s resurgence in viewership. “Never did I think it would become this big, huge thing, but I’m very proud to be a part of it. It’s like this big little show – people have never heard of it or they’re obsessed,” Lakshmi, the show’s host said.
Equally as proud is Dale himself. He is the second Filipino American to be one of the competing chefs, after Season 2’s Josie Smith-Malave. “My ex-girlfriend and I are big fans of the show. She really pushed me to do it, and I am happy I did,” he shared. Dale trained at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and worked at some of Chicago’s fine dining restaurants before moving to New York to work as chef de cuisine at Morimoto. Prior to the show, he was working as sous chef at Buddakan.
While the show focused on the chefs running after the perfect dish, Dale believes that there’s more to it than just that.
“The perfect dish does not exist. It is for me a metaphor for the drive that one has – never being satisfied, never being content. It’s never gonna be there. You will never get it. Everyday you need to go to work and say, ‘This is what I want’. It is not really the dish but the drive to get to that dish,” he said.
Dale was one of the more controversial cheftestants of the show. While he was perceived as someone who had bad temper and attitude problem, a lot of the show’s fans expressed their disappointment online via blogs and message boards when he was unceremoniously booted out during the show’s ‘Restaurant Wars’ episode.
“I deserved to be in the Top 3 but because of my ego, I blew it. I should have let her be executive chef. It’s all water under the bridge now. The show is over and I am glad how everything panned out. I showed my skills well and I am very happy I had the opportunity to do that,” he shared.
The last six contestants were divided into two groups. They were given a budget to come up with a concept for a restaurant and run it for a day. Dale’s group had him sharing the limelight with Lisa and Spike. The other team had eventual winner and the first female Top Chef Stephanie, Richard and Antonia.
Dale’s team lost. Lisa contributed two dishes that the judges didn’t like but since Dale was the executive chef, he got the boot.
Another reason cited for his elimination was a dish he prepared called ‘Butterscotch Scallops’. Guest judge chef Anthony Bourdain wasn’t happy with this dish and called it “supremely bad”.
Suppressing his laughter, Dale recalled, “The dish was supposed to be done with sea bass but when we went to the market they didn’t have enough sea bass. I thought I could do it with scallops although I knew that scallops are naturally sweet while sea bass is not that sweet. That’s where the dish failed.”
There have also been posts that focused on a conspiracy theory, about producers not wanting to have back-to-back Asian Top Chef winners. Last season’s Top Chef was Hung Huynh, a Vietnamese American.
Dale said he made friends during the show and he hopes to keep them. He shared that he got closest with Stephanie and Richard. “Steph is a great friend of mine. I knew her way back from Chicago. With Rich, I really made a connection with him,” he said.
As for regrets, Dale admitted that he should have played the game differently.
“Things happen, I made a mistake. At that point, I didn’t play the game right. I should have just let Lisa be the executive chef and I should have taken the back seat and watch her fall down. My ego got way big,” he quipped.
After the show, Dale went right back to resume his role as sous chef at Buddakan, one of New York City’s hottest restaurants. He is also working on different projects at the moment such as a new concept for a TV show and a screenplay about his restaurant experiences.