Being that Stephen Asprinio is presently more businessman than chef, he isn’t terribly disappointed by “Top Chef“s double-elimination Wednesday. In fact, he’s already moved on and is hard at work on his latest venture: a New York eatery “like Chipotle,” designed to make wine more accessible to the masses. (Hmm. Does that wine come with to-go cups?!) During a call Thursday, Stephen dished on his early dismissal:
On deciding to come back after being out of the kitchen for so long:
It was a big decision. Obviously I own my restaurant and run the kitchen, but I wasn’t behind the line. It’s been like 8 years now since I’ve been a working chef. Season 1, I was only a few years out and it was still very fresh. But it’s something that I’m very passionate about and I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to cook alongside so many amazing chefs. I thought it’d be a lot of fun to do something where my roots come from.
On the changes in the show since season 1:
There’s a world of change and I think it’s all been great. You have to give credit to [production company] Magical Elves. They truly are magical. When the brand started we didn’t even know what was going to happen before the show aired and then it just blew up. Looking at it and seeing the progression from 5 years ago, the credibility of the show and the challenges of the show have increased. It’s where it’s supposed to be. I’m very proud to be a part of it.
On his issues spending the night at the Natural History Museum:
I was out of my element. I got a kick out of it. I know what they aired on television that was like, Stephen’s all pissed he’s gotta sleep in a sleeping bag. But you make the most of the situation. We all kind of bonded, pulling an all-nighter with the rest of the guys. It’s not exactly my style but you roll with the punches and have a good time. I’m not that much of a snob!
On his expectations for how far he’d go:
I was extremely happy about how everything went down. What I was feeling at the time, I was very content. Just to be there was such an honor and such an achievement. I made a mistake that if I was cooking I never would have made. My first restaurant was focused on contemporary Italian cuisine, I mean, that’s my thing. I wasn’t carrying that confidence that someone who cooks every day does. I just did way too much. Obviously I cooked my fish perfectly and my techniques were all there. Maybe I would have gone a few more episodes, but during that first Quickfire I looked around and knew I wouldn’t be making it to the finale. I mean, Richard Blais, Tre Wilcox, Tiffany Faison, Angelo Sosa – those guys are geniuses in the kitchen.
On any surprises with this season’s cast:
They cast it on pure talent and there was no one who I looked at and said, ‘What the heck are you doing here?’ I was very impressed, which was not the case in the first season. I looked around and was like, ‘This is what I signed up for?’ Granted, there was Harold Dieterle and Lee Anne Wong and Tiffany and Dave, but other than that it was kind of a joke. This? Quite the opposite. I would have loved to cook against Bryan Voltaggio, Kevin Gillespie, and maybe CJ.
On lessons learned from his first “Top Chef” appearance:
I thought I did [learn lessons]. I was a little overly confident. But when we showed up – which was a consensus with all the chefs – and they started laying out the challenges the way they were, everyone was shocked. They really stepped it up. Me and Tiffany [Faison] in season 1, we didn’t have that pantry. Angelo and Tiffany [Derry] had such an advantage over us. Tiffany and I had like salt and pepper! That’s an exaggeration, but these guys had all the molecular gastronomy stuff. We didn’t have binding agents or coagulents.
On whether he’d ever return:
No. This was it for me. It was a very nice departure, and I learned a little more from being around a group of amazing chefs. But it is crystal clear where I stand now in this industry and that is as a businessman and not as a chef. My role from a culinary standpoint will still be very strong, but I don’t do what the rest of the chefs on “All-Stars” do. I live in a different world. I think going back would be a disservice to myself.