Tonight's the big night for Bravo's Top Chef: Miami: The gang will all be there---Tom, Padma, Gail, plus newly minted Queer Eye expat, Ted Allen---and 15 new contestants vying for a chance at $100,000 and other goodies. We're tingly all over. They swear things will be more tight-lipped than ever (especially after last year's leaks), and the finale hasn't been taped yet, and we hear it's a live finale. We'll see about that. But to really get hyped, we tracked down local contestant Chris Jacobson, a private chef currently living in Venice. He was driving on the 10 near Crenshaw, in unusually light traffic. We talked about Colicchio's palate vs. Arianna Huffington's, one of his former clients, being tall (really tall), and what it's like to be called a guppy and not a shark. The show premieres tonight on Bravo at 10pm.
Are you a native Angeleno?
CJ: I'm originally from Orange County, been in Venice for eight years. I went to Pepperdine, then worked at Axe, went to culinary school, worked for Wolfgang Puck catering, and then Campanile for a year and half.
You've only been cooking for six years. Why did you become a chef?
CJ: I always liked to cook, but it wasn't until I was in Europe that I really appreciated food. I was in Belgium and I got to eat these great meals every day. The whole community would come to their kitchen. They knew the vendors. It was a really romantic thing for me.
Why do Top Chef?
CJ: I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, what direction I wanted to go in next. I'm really competive by nature, and I thought it would be fun. I thought it would be great to be on TV. Now that it's about to be on national TV, and I'm like, "How's this going to look?"
You're so young, and you beat testicular cancer. How'd that change your life?
CJ: When I was done with it, I had more perspective on it. During, I treated it like, "Oh, I have one more errand to run, gotta deal with my cancer." Afterwards I realized it was bigger than I thought. I value time more now. I lost one of best friends, old lefty is gone.
What's the difference between cooking for Arianna Huffington and Tom Colicchio?
CJ: He doesn't have that strong of accent. You have to be crazy good for him to like you. He's a stud. Not saying Arianna's not a stud, but she has a more friendly palate.
Did you ever talk to Tom about working at Craft in Century City?
CJ: No, I didn't. I know someone from Campanile who might go work there. But no, I'm not sure what I'm going to do next. I want to see how the show goes.
Is your height a curse or a blessing in the kitchen?
CJ: I'm 6' 8. The promo picture makes me look like a mutant. It's definitely harder for me than someone 5' 6 because everything in the kitchen is all lined up for you. When you're 6' 8 there's no cutting board for your height.
What was the best thing about doing the show?
CJ: For me, getting to meet all these different people. Getting to see where I fit, which is kind of intimidating to begin with. These people worked for Jean-Georges, Guy Savoy. I worked at two restaurants; I don't have all the training they have. I think it was a great confidence builder, a great learning experience.
Without naming names, what was the most difficult personality to deal with in the Top Chef kitchen?
CJ: The one-dimensional, self-centered person. The lack of having live a life outside of food because having a life outside of food brings a lot to how good of a cook you are.
Having seen/met the chefs from seasons 1 and 2, and working with season 3, which has the best chefs?
CJ: Season 1 had the classier chefs. Season 2 had the more talent, a little less restrained with their skill level. Season 3 was a culmination of both. There are 13 super strong chefs. Every week it was hard to imagine who'd get sent home, we were all that competitive and that good. We kind of blew each other away.
In a current Bravo TC poll, you're rated a guppy, not a shark.You're at the bottom of the pool. What do you make of that?
CJ: Are you kidding me? That sucks! I don't know what that means. I don't even know...what the hell's a shark? All of a sudden there's a shark involved and I'm being called a guppy by a blogger. Maybe because all the other hacks have all their friends voting in? I've got nothing.
The question that defines any Angeleno: Where do you eat sushi?
CJ: Shima on Abbot Kinney, and this other place on National by the 10 freeway, but I can't remember the name.
And finally, where are you watching the premiere tonight?
CJ: Over at a friend's house, actually going to three parties. I'm in high demand tonight.
For more background on Chris, check out his bio here.