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Top Chef 3: CJ Breaks Out of the Middle

He told us to hold tight, and we did. And payoff! LA's Chris "CJ" Jacobson breaks out of the Top Chef pack to not only win, but a win a trip to Italy. Celeb chef Rocco DiSpirito was guest judge this week, which was really more about hawking frozen pasta dinners for his new corporate gig with Bertolli. Take note cheftestants: See how how far the mighty reality restaurant show stars can go. Anyway, the contestants had to pair up and our boy CJ landed with Tre. The two are perfect foils for each other, at least on TV: Tre, so stern, austere, serious; and CJ, the Jolly Green Giant, serious in his own right, but filled with fun. Hell, the man survived cancer, he deserves to take life as it comes and on his own terms. The dynamic duo deconstruct a frozen pasta dinner, create their own recipe, do the one thing that no one else does (freeze each part separately), and viola! They win. Big yet very sensitive Joey was eliminated. We caught up with CJ today, the fast-talking chef (really?fast), to talk about finally getting out of the middle, who he's taking to Italy, dealing with Howie, and what we should drink with next week's "nightlife episode."

Yay! Breakout moment. How did it feel? You did a jig or something.
I have many celebratory dances in my repertoire, and I have to choose carefully. That was is my "win a trip to Italy bootie jig." Just trying to keep it real. It felt great, but it felt great the entire time. Tre and I just went with it right away. We thought of really simple flavors, we had black kale, confit of tomatoes, grilled chicken, and only cooked it just enough so it didn't dry out. It was really juicy and really nice.

You and Tre couldn't seem more different, and yet you work perfectly together.
Early on I realized that everyone cooks in different ways. When it's time to cook, I'm serious but I have to keep a little CJ in there. We both have focus, we have that common thread.

You called Hung a douche on national TV, which was hilarious.
I imagine people from around the nation were cheering. He has very bright shiny moments of asshole in him, but his bad moments are really bad. I almost want to have compassion for him, because he's so talented and so skilled.

What happened with Howie in the waiting room?
You probably only saw about 20 seconds of that tirade he was on, and we just found out we won so I was all smiles and rainbows and happy. He was being so unfair and disrespectful to Sara. It's one thing to talk that way, but to a woman? He was being really brutal, and it struck a chord. When he said something like, "If you want to throw back, I'll throw back." So I said, "Oh yeah, is that what you're gonna do," or something sarcastically. Howie and I were roommates and we had some really good heart to hearts. He knew that I wasn't being mean, he was going off the handle.

Who do you think should've been sent home?
We didn't taste anyone else's food. We were in our own zone. I think I tasted a meatball and it was good. But I don't think I would ever do a pork meatball in Miami or even LA. When Joey was pleading his case, it made more sense then that Joey should've gone home. Watching it this week though, maybe Sara because she got railroaded. Maybe Howie because he was so lame. The last thing I would do is a Chernobyl and have a meltdown on camera.

What did you think about Rocco?
I liked Rocco, but I didn't know what to think. A lot of people couldn't stand him in that show he did, in fact people hate him. But in the peak of this disdain, he came out with one of my favorite cookbooks [Flavor]. There's so much hatred, but he still stacks up and comes out with this cookbook. He was really hands on, and he's really a smart chef. Sure he's soliciting stuff for Bertolli, but what's wrong with that. He's a James Beard Award winner.

How many times can you say Bertolli? They are paying for your trip, right?
I love Bertolli.

Think he had work done?
He looked a little different. Maybe he looked better before. [Bravo rep chimes in that Rocco does triathlons, which might be why he looks so different. Do with that what you will.]

When are you going to Italy and who are you taking?
You can't get any prize until the show is done. I'm not sure yet when I'm going, maybe truffle season. It's like a week with cooking courses, Tuscany. They give you cash. It would be kind of cool to go with Tre and his wife. I'm taking my girlfriend, as long as she doesn't break up with me and end up hating my guts or something.

What do you look forward to on the trip?
I just want to go and cook and eat everywhere. Further my knowledge. I always sort of cooked around Italian food, I've been there before, in Sicily for a month. I'm excited to go to some salumi shop. I'll try to smuggle some back.

Every week, I've inadvertently erased your answer to the question "What are you listenting to right now." Care to try again?
LCD Sound System, The Handsome Furs, the Battles.

Do you listen to music in the kitchen?
I try to, but in some restaurants they don't let you. In my kitchen, I'll make a play list, and start with something like Talking Heads and maybe go all the way to Sawyer or something.

You mentioned that a friend told you someone in a chat room asked if you're gay. They actually said, "So is this tall drink of water gay?"
Those fuckers. I almost have a problem being too ungay.

The big nightlife episode is next. Did you bring sexy back?
I don't know. We were going out, I had to put on a shirt. If that's bringing sexy back, then sure. All the girls look smokin' hot, though.

The teaser says nothing about the challenge, but we suspect you all go out, got tanked, and then were asked to cook something. Isn't that dangerous?
You'll just have to watch and see. Don't all chefs drink when they cook?

What should we drink while watching the next ep?
I recommend Jameson. That might help. I might bring the sexy back if you're drinking Jameson.
· Top Chef Reunion Show Tonight, But We Still Have CJ Right Here [~ELA~]

For a little extra light hilarity, please read Anthony Bourdain's blog, our favorite possum-calling blogger at Amuse Biatch, and two other regular TC blogs about last night's episode