Interview With Lisa Fernandes of “Top Chef”


Top Chef Season 4 finalist
and out lesbian Lisa Fernandes could be called the Bravo show’s villain du
saison. Often sparring with the other contestants and shown sporting a scowl
during Judges’ Table, Fernandes became the contestant that fans loved to hate.
But the New York resident and Toronto native found some vindication in her grand
finale performance last week. The 27-year-old was cool, calm and even chatty in
the finals. She also nearly beat out fan-favorite and eventual winner Stephanie
Izard for the title.

Fernandes started the season as one of 16 up-and-coming
chefs competing to be Top Chef in a series of grueling culinary challenges. She
was one of three lesbian contestants — including San Francisco couple Jennifer
Biesty and Zoi
Antonitsas — on the show, the most in any single season so far. Fernandes
survived 13 eliminations to make it to the top three, along with Izard and Richard

Now back in New York after
shooting the series’ finale in Puerto Rico
last month, where the finalists had to cook their “meal of a
lifetime,” Fernandes is working at Mai House to help out fellow Top Chef contestant Spike Mendelsohn,
who is the restaurant’s chef de cuisine. Mendelsohn is currently in Washington, D.C.,
opening a restaurant with his family. Fernandes spoke with from the
restaurant the day after the finale aired about the show’s editing, her
$100,000 mistake and that new haircut.
Congratulations on making it to the final three. When you started the season,
what chance did you give yourself of winning?
Lisa Fernandes:
You have to have confidence in yourself. You have to
believe you’ll make it to the finale every single day. Otherwise, what’s the
point? Just to say you don’t want to be the first one to go home?

AE: Can I ask about
the haircut? What prompted you to make the change before the finale [which was
shot six months after the previous episode]?
[laughs] My girlfriend has been trying to get me to cut my hair off for
some time. I went for a haircut and the next thing I know the stylist is agreeing
with her, and then the next thing I realize is I have no hair. For two days I
had the shock of waking up and having no hair. Now I get it trimmed up every
two weeks. For the record it is not a faux-hawk. Lots of people seem to think I’m
Jen for some reason.

AE: Speaking of
which, this season started with the most ever lesbian competitors: Jennifer,
Zoi and yourself. Was there a secret lesbian handshake between you three? Any
behind-the-scenes jams to the Indigo Girls?
[laughs] No, no, no. None of that. Yeah, there were two other lesbians
and that’s cool. Like Spike said, “Yay, lesbians!” But no secret
lesbian handshakes.

AE: Did you feel it
was an advantage or disadvantage for them to be on the show as a couple?
Looking at it now, it was definitely a bigger disadvantage. Putting
your private relationship and life in the open for people to pick apart is
difficult. Everybody saw how intense it got when Zoi was sent home. Then Jen
fought back and kicked ass in the next Quickfire. But it had to be really hard
on them.

AE: Did you plan your
menu for the “meal of a lifetime” before you came to Puerto Rico?
I had some ideas of sauces, flavors and techniques I wanted to use, but
nothing was set in stone. But most definitely I prepared. From going to little
Asian markets in my neighborhood to picking up random ingredients, throwing
dinner parties for friends and family at my house and playing around with
everything and taking it all in consideration.

But I knew from Restaurant Wars with my failed mango sticky
rice that I wanted to come back strong with an amazing version of sticky rice.

AE: How do you feel
about your performance in the finale?
I’m so happy with my performance in the finale. It showed my real personality
and my real behavior in the kitchen. That is generally how I am — smiling,
being passionate, having a good time. This is what I do for fun; I don’t want
to be stressed out. I want to have fun and to be relaxed and to have that come
out in my food. I loved all the dished I made.

AE: Is there anything
you would have done differently?
My $100,000 mistake? I would have cooked that beef more. I have worked
with Kobe beef [in
the past], and I tasted it a bunch of times. I thought it was great. I don’t
know if my palate was different or maybe in transition from cooking to resting
to cutting it tasted different. The bottom line is it wasn’t done the way they
prefer it. That is my only regret on the shows.

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