Will Sandee Birdsong Be “Top Chef”?

On this season's Top Chef, Colicchio and Gail Simmons return as judges and are joined by Ted Allen, the food expert from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Birdsong pointed out another challenging aspect of the competition: "The judges all have their own tastes and they like totally different things! They have different palates and you find that out almost immediately based on the comments they make. It's tough."

One of the biggest challenges Top Chef presented for Birdsong was not being in control. "You surrender yourself to that environment, and every single thing that you do, you have to ask about it," she said. "And there are things that you can't do, and everything's on a time schedule. That was probably the hardest."

But spending 30 days away from home — or, more specifically, away from her sweetheart and her pooch — may have been even harder. "I've been with my girlfriend for 12 years now," she said. "We were apart for 10 days at the beginning, but that was it. And my dog I've never been away from for that long."

Before meeting her partner, Birdsong was married to a man — right from the time she graduated high school. "I was never around anyone gay, so I didn't really know I was in the closet, if that makes sense," she explained. "I didn't know who I was. I was married nine years before I had an experience with a woman, and two weeks later I was divorced." She's been with that woman ever since.

While most of the Top Chef competitors came from out of state, Birdsong was already based in Miami. This meant that she was highly likely to run into people she knew while shooting the series, which was tricky considering that one of the show's rules is that contestants can't talk to anyone outside the competition. "I was shopping in the grocery store and people ran into me and I'd say, 'No, no! You gotta go away!'" she recalled.

On top of that, she was a little disappointed that she didn't get to visit a different city: "I wanted to go somewhere! I'm in Miami every day." But she is nothing if not enthusiastic about taking part in Top Chef. In fact, this woman seems to exude enthusiasm across the board. "I've got a Cherokee Indian bloodline and a pirate bloodline, so that's where my spirit comes from," she commented.

Besides being an executive chef, Birdsong owns a monthly South Florida lesbian magazine called She. Ten years ago she played a more active role in producing the magazine, but now she likens her role to that of a silent partner.

She is also collaborating with some other women on a project to supply local schools — both public and private — with healthy, organic meals. "The school lunches are absolutely horrible," she noted. "I know if I had a kid in school I'd pack their lunch every day. But parents don't have time to do that." So she hopes to provide a nutritious and conveniently delivered alternative.

Who knows? Perhaps she also has plans to open a restaurant with the $100,000 in seed money she may have won as Top Chef — although she wasn't at liberty to say how she did in the competition. We'll have to wait and see.

The third season of Top Chef premieres Wednesday, June 13, at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.

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