Like most of my classmates at culinary school, I'm addicted to Top Chef. It's fun to see what chefs who are already in the industry are doing. In fact, Top Chef is the predominant item on my Tivo list (along with Project Runway and Family Guy). This season, I have been excited to see so many talented women on the show. Three of them happen to be out lesbians.
Zoi Antonitsas is one of those talented chefs. I was lucky enough to catch Zoi for a few minutes this week and ask her some questions and find out why she thinks a woman's place is in the kitchen.
SERENA: When did you know that you wanted to be a chef?
ZOI: I got my first kitchen job when I was twenty, and at the time it was more of a job than a career move. But after a few months of working in the kitchen, I found it exciting and fun, and I loved it.
S: Why did you decide to try out for Top Chef?
Z: Well, the show is exciting. It appeals to the competitive nature in me. I also found the exposure appealing, because you can't really achieve that on your own.
S: You're not a classically trained chef. So how did it feel to win the knife skills quick fire challenge?
Z: That was the most fulfilling thing about being on the show, because I really respect and admire Daniel Boulud, more than any other guest judge who's been on the show. It was a real honor to cook for him. I was really nervous when I walked into the kitchen and saw him there, especially when I found out it was a knife skills test. I thought, "Oh, God." But I'm really happy and proud that I won. I think education is important. But your skill comes from within.
S: How has being on the show affected your relationship with Jennifer?
Z: Our relationship has gone through a lot of changes, but that's normal. Relationships change. I think being on the show has helped us focus on what we want to do as chefs and where we want to go. We love and respect each other very much and being on a TV show is not going to change that.
S: Do you think that being out in the kitchen has presented any challenges to your career?
Z: Yes and no. I think that just being a woman in the kitchen is a challenge. There's this sense in our industry that you have to be strong and tough and resilient. A lot of people are still ignorant and think that in order to be strong you have to be a male. I can cook next to anybody, but I still have to get over that hurdle. It's more about me being a woman that it is about being gay. For instance, if I have a purveyor ask to meet the chef, I'll introduce myself and they'll look at me like, "how can you be the chef?" I don't fit their profile of what a chef looks like. I'm young and I'm female. But a chef isn't just some round guy with a mustache and a top hat. The people I work with know that I'm gay, but it's not really their business. I don't need to be out about it, because it's just one part of my life. And it's a private part.
S: What are your favorite hot spots in San Francisco?
Z: There are so many good restaurants in San Francisco. I like Coco, which is Jen's restaurant. There's Delfina. Range, Blue Plate in the Mission District. Those are the places that I eat out at a lot.
S: What projects are you currently working on?
Z: I'm doing consulting work in San Francisco and Sonoma and working part time at my friend's restaurant, Zazu. My goal is to get to a place where I can open my own restaurant. The question is just where.
S: Is Spike really as big of an asshole in real life as they make him out to be on the show?
Z: I don't know. It's hard to watch the show now and see all the things that you see Spike doing. Because he never said those things to my face. So it's a shock. I don't know how much of that is editing or him performing because I don't know him in real life. But it doesn't bother me that he acts that way because he's not my friend and I don't spend time thinking about him. My point of view and the way that I live my life is that I don't do that to other people. I don't use people to get further ahead myself. And I just feel sorry for people who are like that.
S: Do you feel that your being on Top Chef has helped increase the visibility for women in the culinary field?
Z: You know, even though there is still a lot of our industry that's male dominated, there are a lot of talented female chefs working in California. I think that the show is really good for young people who have never worked in a kitchen before. They can see people like me who are out there doing it. But I'm certainly not a pioneer. There are many women who have been doing this a lot longer than I have. We're out there.
S: Do you think this is the year that a woman will finally win Top Chef?
Z: I hope so. It would be nice. But I think whoever is the best chef will win. It's going to be whoever wants it the most. In hindsight, I can say that I really didn't want it as much as some of the other contestants. I wanted to do well, but some of the others would be happier with the title than me. I don't want to be in the public eye. And don't forget. The winner is Bravo's Top Chef, not the Top Chef of the world or even the Top Chef of the country. That's something else entirely.
S: Now that you and Jen are gone, who's your pick to win?
Z: I obviously have my favorite. Overall, I think that everyone on the show is really talented. And despite what they show, we all got along really well. So I wish everyone the best of luck.