Yesterday, I had the opportunity to talk to Zoi, the latest Top Chef cheftestant to pack her knives and go. She was one-half of the San Francisco couple — the other half being Jen — and was sent home because of some under-flavored — or was that over-flavored — mushrooms. To find out what she had to say about everyone's angry outbursts and what she's up to these days, then
YumSugar: Did you and Jen decide to try out together, or is it something that just happened?
Zoi Antonitsas: We tried out as individuals, not ever thinking we would get on the show as a couple. It definitely surprised us to find out we both got on. We both watch the show and decided, why not?
YS: So let me get right down to it, what went through your mind when you were asked to leave?
ZA: I was very disappointed. I definitely feel like it was not my time to go. I feel that I was sent home early. I definitely feel that I proved myself to be on the show for longer than they allowed. But once the words come out of their mouth, there's no "Come on Padma, really?"
At that point I was just really concerned about Jen. I knew she was not prepared. I knew it would be really difficult for her, and I was disappointed and bummed out, you know?
YS: Seems like you were right, in the stew room she didn't seem prepared. Is that really how it happened, or was all the drama due to fancy editing?
ZA: It was ugly. It was worse than what they showed actually. When I walked in and said, "I'm going," everyone's mouth just fell open. For me it was flattering and supportive. Everyone felt frustrated by the fact that we are all in the competition, we all do like each other for the most part.
When I walked out, I was still in the building and could hear what was going on. There was an explosion, there were people screaming, and stuff being thrown around. I talked to Jen because I didn't get to actually see it — last night was the first time — but she told me that everyone just freaked out and started fighting. It was really emotional. I'm not really sure why that happened, but you know the competition is emotional and difficult. I don't think Bravo added any drama, there was more they could have shown.
YS: Was the entire experience emotional for you?
ZA: Very much so. It's much more emotionally challenging than it is anything else. The cooking is challenging, but the really challenging thing is cooking on display, the feelings of personal attacks, not having your support system, being in a place where you feel like you're being asked to perform and yet be yourself. I'm not an actor and it was performing. It was really emotional for me and Jen. Our relationship has been scrutinized, did we not kiss enough? Did we not show enough? You're on display and it's tough.
YS: What was it like being at home, knowing that Jen was still in that environment?
ZA: It was hard to be away from her and not know what was going on and not be able to talk to her. But I also realize we easily could have been on the show separately. So I kept telling myself to be patient. Patience is a virtue and there's not much you can do.
YS: So what was it like living in a house with all of those people?
ZA: It was fun for the most part. I mean I really got along with everyone. I feel like they were a family. We had this experience together and we'll always be connected by something you can never forget. I'm looking forward to seeing everyone on the reunion show and in life. I'm sure I'll cry.
YS: Going back to your elimination, during the challenge, did Antonia's immunity every cross your mind?
ZA: Yes, but mostly as a matter of math. If we got chosen there would only be two of us to choose from. She's a great chef and I never thought she would sabotage us and I think she only did her best.
YS: So if you had to do it again, would you create the same dish, or would you do it differently?
ZA: You know, I think that dish was really good. It's hard to hear people say it was bland and had no flavor. I mean cows, their feet touch the earth. Sunchokes are tubers grown in the earth and mushrooms are very earthy. I think it was a great and earthy dish. I would do it again, but I would just do it better.
YS: So what have you learned from all of this?
ZA: I learned about myself and my cooking style and point of view. I'm not trying to appeal to the masses. I have a life that is not always having to do with food and cooking. That's just one aspect of my life, like how being gay is only one aspect. I'm Zoi and I'm lucky that what I do for a living is something I'm also really passionate about, but I have other things that I do, and I feel that my whole life is not going to be about trying to be a gay famous chef. My goal in life is to be a good person and have a happy life and an amazing restaurant.
YS: Are you thinking about opening a restaurant?
ZA: That's the goal. It's a few years away, but it'll happen when it's time. Now it's just a matter of figuring out where and when and how.
YS: So what are you doing in the meantime?
ZA: I'm doing some consulting work on a part-time basis and working at Zazu in Sonoma County. It's an awesome little restaurant. It's fun and I'm really happy. It's amazing here, like Tuscany in America. It's awesome, life is awesome.
Photos courtesy of Bravo