Rioja's Jennifer Jasinski dishes on her debut on Top Chef Masters, Wednesday on Bravo
On Wednesday night, Jennifer Jasinski, the executive chef and co-owner of Rioja, makes her debut on Top Chef Masters, where she'll go head-to-head against twelve other chefs, including Douglas Keane, David Burke and Bryan Voltaggio, for a chance to win the Top Chef Masters title and $100,000, the earnings of which will be donated to a charity of the winner's choice. Jasinski, should she emerge victorious, will give her prize money to Work Options for Women, a local nonprofit that equips impoverished women with the necessary skills to seek employment in the hospitality industry.
Lori Midson Jennifer Jasinki, exec chef-owner of Rioja.
I can't tell you the outcome of the first episode, but after getting a sneak peek at the press cut, I spoke with Jasinski about her debut, and she had plenty to say about her first challenge, yellow cards and "excessive douchebaggery" and Jorel Pierce, her chef de cuisine at Euclid Hall.
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On this season of Top Chef Masters, there's a separate battle between sous chefs -- yours is Jorel Pierce, your chef de cuisine at Euclid Hall -- and depending upon how well the sous chefs do in their own competitions, they have the ability to help or hinder the Master chefs. Pierce does really well (we can't say how well) in the first sous chef battle. How bad do you think he wants to win this for you? Oh, my gosh, are you kidding me? Nobody wants to win more than Jorel. When I got the little card telling me how Jorel did, I was so fucking excited for him because he's had this monkey on his back ever since being eliminated from Top Chef -- and, of course, he was eliminated before he even got a chance to cook, which I think is crap, but I'm really, really proud of how hard he pushed himself this time.
Part of your first challenge included the opportunity to have two hours of prep time rather than one...but only if you chose to skydive and land in a random airfield. You made the decision to skydive. How nervous where you, and did you have any hesitations? I'd gone skydiving before in 1995 or 1996, and I was super-excited that first time, but when it was all over with, I felt sick and really didn't really like it. And I didn't really want to do it on the show either; I was thinking that I don't want to throw up in mid-air, so I didn't eat anything that morning, but I was still a little nauseous. I was just trying to breathe. Still, I knew that I'd be fine -- it would be bad TV if one of us died. And having two hours of prep time instead of just one was super-important, because they throw all these wrenches into everything, and it literally took me the whole two hours to get all the prep work done and finish my dish.
When you landed, you were in the middle of nowhere without a kitchen in site. In fact, there wasn't much of anything, including running water or electricity -- not exactly optimal cooking conditions. How did you make the best of a less that desirable situation? It was really tough. We each had a six-foot table, a camping stove, grills and a cooler with raw ingredients. We had to find our cooler, drag it back to our station and figure it all out on our own. I had to clean mushrooms and boil my fregula, but I'd used the last of my water -- all of us only had a gallon of water each -- so I had to borrow water from other people, and that still wasn't enough, but I had soda water in my cooler, so I ended up using that. I was totally macgyvering everything. You think something is going to take this long and it ends up taking a lot longer, plus it was super-windy, and we had to protect all of our food from the dust and dirt that was flying around, and it was really difficult to chop stuff without it blowing away. I wrapped foil around the camping stove and got it to start burning really well, but I had a hard time with the grill. I thought I'd cook the skirt steak and let It rest, but half an hour later, it still wasn't cooked, so I had to pan sear it in a cast-iron skillet. You just have to keep pushing through.
What was the most difficult ingredient to work with? I was given a list of ingredients that Joel used in his competition, which were the same ingredients that we had to use in our challenge. The list was daunting and I was definitely a little nervous about having to use every single one of those ingredients in one dish, but I think it turned out great. I did have some problems with the spices -- there was no grinder so I had to crush them and they kept blowing all over the place. The wind was just crazy.