‘Top Chef’s Marcel: I’m Not Actually An A–hole

by | January 21, 2011 at 12:17 PM | Interviews, Top Chef

Marcel Vigneron (Bravo)

Marcel Vigneron (Bravo)

Oh, Marcel. On Wednesday night’s episode of “Top Chef,” your fellow chef’testants called you “rude,” a “time bomb,” and questioned whether or not you were “on drugs.” Harsh words for a good guy? Or an accurate description of the outspoken chef? “I think in actuality I’m not an a–hole,” he said in a phone interview from Los Angeles Thursday. “But do I have the capability of being one? Perhaps.” Marcel, who is actually quite friendly (for real!), dished on his Restuarant Wars elimination, why he thinks Mike Isabella is actually the rude one, and his latest project over at Syfy.

Have you been watching the show all season?
I think I missed one or two episodes.

This is the age old question, but do you feel like you were accurately portrayed? Do you think you got the villain edit?
I’m not technically allowed to talk about editing, but I will say that when I watched a lot of episodes, I was like, ‘Hmmm. That is very interesting.’ I’m just very passionate about what I do. If the milk is sour, I’m not the type of cat to drink it, which can be a little bit difficult for other people to handle. If someone does something to upset me, you’ll know it. I’m very emotional in that regard, whereas a lot of other contestants will act one way and then react in another. For example, there’s a lot of trash talking that seems to be taking place in the interviews, which kind of hurts my feelings. I would like to think I’m a little bit better than that. You don’t see me in an interview talking sh-t about somebody behind their back. I remember when I was in high school and a bunch of kids did that. I kind of wish that they had the courage or at least the respect that, if they were feeling that way, to tell me to my face and not be so childish.

Was it surprising to learn how the other chefs felt about you? Or did you think there was a general vibe that you and the house didn’t mix?
I would not say there was a general vibe that me and the house didn’t mix, because I actually got along with quite a few people inside of the house: Tre, and Spike, and Carla. I guess I was pretty surprised. Other than [Mike] Isabella and Dale, [where] a couple episodes in we started to go in that direction where we weren’t really getting along. It’s funny because I watched Wednesday’s episode and it’s Mike Isabella saying things like, ‘Marcel is a rude and inconsiderate person. I don’t want to f—king work with him.’ But if you watch it, that is a rude thing to say. He was trying to steal my equipment and I said no. Am I supposed to just to give him all the stuff I’ve set apart for me to use? And I actually have the common decency to tell him where to go to get these pieces of equipment he was looking for! How does that make me inconsiderate? How does that make me not know how to talk to people? It’s kind of confusing. Really? Who is he to tell me that my food doesn’t have any soul? He didn’t even cook his lamb properly, so whatever.

Has anyone come forward and apologized for what they’ve said in the confessionals?
Yeah. Tre apologized as soon as the episode aired. He said something like, ‘Marcel is kind of an a—hole.’ As soon as that quote came out he texted me like, ‘Dude, I’m so sorry. What I actually said was, Marcel is kind of an a—hole, but we’re all a—holes. He’s actually just the best at being one.’ Which was a weird way of giving me a compliment.

Taking it back a step, what was it that made you decide to come back on the show?
One of the reasons why I wanted to come back is that it’s just fun to compete. It’s also a good opportunity to continue to get your name out there. And the challenges are actually really fun sometimes. It’s a good opportunity to showcase my food to the public. And I was kind of excited about spending the summer in New York and hanging out with some of the other chefs. The competition was pretty intense, but we had the opportunity to learn from one another. All in all it’s a pretty good experience. It’s just difficult when you’re actually making a show and they focus in on the drama.

What do you think went wrong during Restaurant Wars? You picked the wrong team? No one was listening to you? You were stretched too thin?
It was a combination of all those things. Right from the get-go I was the sacrificial lamb. The comments I saw coming from [Mike] Isabella, saying he didn’t want to work with me, it makes it difficult to create a team environment when you’re working with people that don’t want to work with you.

But you didn’t know he didn’t want to work with you at the time, right?
No, I didn’t know that at all. Everyone was like, ‘Oh, sweet! I’m happy to be on your team. We’re gonna kill this.’ And then when I was watching the menu planning part — it was so frustrating for me to watch that.  When we were planning the challenge, my proposal was to allow everybody to take control of their own dish.  But you don’t really see that part. So when we came up with the Mediterranean concept, my idea was to let everybody pick their own dish, because happy cooks make good food. If you’re a monarchy it’s not going to succeed. Who am I to tell somebody, ‘You have to make this dish my way or it’s the highway’? That’s not going to be good for anybody. Or at least so I thought. Apparently that wasn’t a good idea.

What comes across is that you’re being overbearing and everyone is resentful.
Right. But in actuality, I wanted everyone to do their own dishes. When we were doing this whole menu planning everybody was being extremely difficult and nobody was focusing on creating a menu. From the get-go the group dynamic was difficult to work with. I was put in quite the predicament by being the team leader, where everybody gets to cook their own dish, but ultimately I’m responsible for their dish. So I take the fall?

Did you feel like there was more pressure this season than ever before?
Yeah. It was definitely super intense. I kind of felt like I got run over by the bus. The fact of the matter is during that challenge I cooked my heart out. I put so much time, and energy, and passion, and thought into the food. I was sweating the entire time, working my a— off. I think a lot of people really let me down. They knew that if our team lost then I was going to be the one to go home, so they didn’t actually really push. It was an opportunity to sacrifice me. For example, Mike Isabella. Not only did I plate every single garnish for all the dishes, I also got him all his pots and pans. He’d be like, ‘Marcel is back there throwing pots and pans,’ and I’d be like, ‘Actually, we’re cooking, and it’s pretty intense. I know you haven’t worked the line in a really long time, but you have to move.’ I thought to myself, Man, I can’t wait to get back to L.A. where I can work with people I know and people who want to work with me.

It must be slightly cruel that it’s been so long since you shot that episode, and then you have to revisit it after the wound has healed.
Well, the wound is not that big. The first thing I did when I came back to L.A. was open up a pop-up restaurant, and I absolutely destroyed it.

On another note, what’s up with your new SyFy show?
My new show is called ‘Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen.’ It’s premiering March 7. It’s all about creativity and imagination. My friends and I set up our own catering company and we cater these very elaborate parties for pretty high-profile clients in Los Angeles. The menu and the venue for the party is specifically surrounded by the inspiration of our guests. We’ll spend a couple of days hanging out with our clients and really getting to know them. Whatever it is that they do, we’ll do. If they’re race car drivers, I’ll go race with them. If they’re a surfer, I’ll go surfing. So that way when I create the menu it’s actually catered towards them. And it becomes a very creative, very intimate dining experience. We’re doing some pretty crazy things with food that I’ve never done before and people haven’t seen before.

So what is the science fiction aspect?
Oh! It’s pretty simple, actually. The style of cooking I do is commonly referred to as molecular gastronomy. We go into pretty great detail about the phenomenon. Then the fiction part comes in because the food we create, people think it wouldn’t be possible. If you’ve ever wondered how an Everlasting Gobstopper works, or if you’re chewing gum and it changes flavor, we go over that in the show.

Are you thinking of bring on anyone from “Top Chef”?
It isn’t about ‘Top Chef,’ but it is about me and my friends. I was talking about maybe having Spike on one of the episodes. We might have, like…Voltaggio is a good friend of mine. I definitely have cameos and guest chefs on occasion.

Which Voltaggio?
I’m actually good friends with both of them. I was Michael’s executive sous chef. When I went to the ‘Top Chef’ season 4 finale in New Orleans, I asked one of the casting coordinators if they were looking for people. Then I called up Michael asking if he wanted to do the show and he was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll totally do it.’ Then I found out about Bryan. Then the rest is history – they were both on the show.