A hardcore fan for the past 14 seasons of the bingeworthy Top Chef series on the Bravo Network, my crush this year was adorable Chef Jim Smith with the megawatt smile and those deep dimples. Every season I find a new boyfriend who just happens to be a culinary warrior. ( I still love you too, Michael Voltaggio!) The focus on southern cuisine reminded me of all that good eating when I lived in Charleston, SC many years ago, and the mix of rookies vs competitors from previous seasons was brilliantly presented.
He may not have won the title, but the way Chef Jim maintained such a humble demeanor, despite his exemplary culinary skills, was a joy to watch. He just never lost his composure.
Before you get too excited ladies, this talented heartthrob is a newlywed that has been happily married to his lovely wife for 2 years. Despite my obvious heartbreak, I pulled myself together to grab a front row seat with my signature cheeseburger and lemonade to share all the delicious details and tantalizing tidbits of Chef Jim Smith, and the awesome adventures of Top Chef.
CHEF JIM: No, I was born in Panama City, Florida and raised in Troy, Alabama.
RO: I visited Panama City a long time ago and loved it! What is your official title, what do you do, and how long have you had your job?
CHEF JIM: I have been the Executive Chef of Alabama for more than 6 years. It is a great job that is a lot of hard work and fun. There is no kitchen staff other than myself, so I make all the food and do all the prep work. This position has been very good for me and it is an honor to be a representative for state food.
RO: I can imagine that you're super busy all the time. Working for a governor, does everyone expect you to talk about politics? Do you think of reasons to run in the other direction when political discussions come up?
CHEF JIM: Not really, but I am pretty much always willing to talk about food politics. As the Chairman of the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission there is a real political component of the work that I do for the state. There are times when I may need to be at the Capitol as a person working for the seafood industry of Alabama, but not as a chef.
RO: What kind of food do you cook for the governor, and do you work every day? Do you prepare the menu on your own?
CHEF JIM: I usually work five days a week and prepare the menus myself, so I tend to start with what looks best at the Farmer's Market and go from there. I do however, take requests.
|Johnson & Wales University Cafeteria in Charlotte NC|
RO: If I'm ever in Alabama, I'll put in my order for a jalapeno double cheeseburger, please!
Would you say that you are a classically trained chef?
CHEF JIM: I was classically trained and attended culinary school at Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte, NC where I graduated at the top of my class. I was so impressed with the resumes of the other chefs on the show that I knew I was the underdog; I may not have worked for Jean Georges, Mario Batali, Jose Andreas, or Alice Waters but I still knew that I had a chance to compete and compete well.
|Bravo Media - Tommy Garcia|
|Bravo Media/Tommy Garcia|
RO: I absolutely agree! What in the world made you decide to try out for Top Chef, and did the process take a long time? What did you have to do?
CHEF JIM: I have been a fan of Top Chef since the early seasons. I love the show, the challenges, the chefs, and judges, and knew that I wanted to be a part of that family. There were thousands of other chefs who applied so there was definitely some time involved in making it through to casting. This included submissions of many recipes, photos, and videos , actual interviews and various other steps in the overall process. I do not envy the hardworking people who made the final decisions about the show, and feel so humbled just to be a part of the family.
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RO: Whew! Sure sounds like a lot went on, huh? Let’s talk about the show a little. We were getting nervous with your recipe plans for that whole chicken because time was running out quickly, but you won the first quickfire with those fantastic fried chicken innards. I could almost taste the crunch through my television that night. How did that make you feel?
CHEF JIM: Winning the first quickfire felt great and it showed the other chefs that I was there to compete. As a fan of Top Chef I knew that it is better to make one dish very well than two or three that might have problems. I think that all the rookies, including myself, were overly ambitious in that challenge. I was so nervous during that whole quickfire - really all the challenges. Hearing Padma say that I won was definitely one of the highlights of my time on the show.
Bravo Media/Paul Cheney
RO: Once the quickfires were over, did you have the opportunity to taste the other chefs’ food? Everyone loved that Trotter Hash and Hog Head. Do you think you could replicate that same dish if you had to?
CHEF JIM: Whenever there was the opportunity to sample another chef’s food I always tried to taste as much as possible. The BBQ challenge was one of my favorites; we had a great team, a great menu, and worked very well as a team. I could definitely recreate the Hog Head and Trotter Hash.
RO: The name of the food sounded a little weird,(lol) but the actual dish sure looked dang tasty. Everyone loved your personality and rooted for you to win. During the show, whom did you bond with the most?
CHEF JIM: That is such a hard question to answer. I bonded with almost everybody on the show, and really felt like I left the show with fourteen new, great friends.
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RO: It's always wonderful to meet new friends for sure! How did you feel when alumni members came out to complete the group?
CHEF JIM: When I saw the veterans walk into the Top Chef kitchen I was nervous and excited, and knew that they would all be a good source of information. I believed I could learn by watching them in the challenges. I was also a little star struck too. People like Casey Thompson and Sam Talbot really inspired me to go to culinary school and become a professional chef. At the same time, I knew that they would be very hard to beat.
RO: I totally get the learning aspect, and probably explains why I keep watching repeats of the show over and over again. (lol) What time of day does everything start on Top Chef, and when does the day actually end?
CHEF JIM: One of the difficult aspects of being on the show is that you never knew what the day would bring; every day was a new surprise.
RO: Would you ever do a program like Top Chef again?
CHEF JIM: In a heartbeat.
RO: You made it through 7 challenges until losing because of your Steak Tartare dish. Then you had to face the Last Chance Kitchen against Jaime, where a little too much salt did you in. How did you feel about him giving up his immunity?
CHEF JIM: Jamie is a very talented chef but I think that given the circumstances it was probably not the best decision. He took the dregs of the food choices because he had immunity, and yes his dish was among the worst at the challenge, but he took one for the team by taking the chicken and peanut butter. He had every reason to keep his immunity.
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RO: Once a contestant left the show, did he or she really go back home?
CHEF JIM SMITH: When a chef was eliminated from the competition, he or she was moved from the cast house to a nearby hotel and kept separated until Last Chance Kitchen.
RO: It sucks about the elimination, but at least everyone was able to hang out a little while longer to sightsee and relax. During the finale, we were all thrilled to see you back along with the other chefs in Mexico. What did you do while there? How long did you stay?
CHEF JIM: Mexico was a lot of fun. I really wanted to be a sous chef for either Brooke or Shirley, so I was ready to cook. But since I was not chosen, I basically got to hang out in Tulum with the other chefs and eat the final dinner. It was great!
RO: We're dying to know if you were able to keep those Top Chef coats?
CHEF JIM: They take the chef coats at the end, but I may have accidentally ended up with a coat in my luggage.
RO: LOL! I'm not mad at you at all! I'd love to snag one of those classic jackets, too! You’re such a nice guy. Is there a chef you have/haven’t met yet that you'd love to work with in the future?
CHEF JIM: I did an event with Nancy Silverton a few weeks ago, and it was so cool to meet a culinary hero of mine. I would love to work with her again in the future.
Perfect proof that a famous culinary giant like Chef Jim is just like us. Check out these cool responses!
RO: Do you prefer William Shatner or Chris Pine as Captain Kirk, and why?
CHEF JIM: Shatner 100%. The better question may be, “what is my order of all the captains?” My order is:
“1. Patrick Stewart (Picard) 2. William Shatner (Kirk) 3. Kate Mulgrew (Janeway) 4. Avery Brooks (Sisko) 5. Chris Pine (Kirk) 6. Scott Bakula (Archer)”. I really like all of the television programs and movies, including the new ones. I remember having a great conversation with the chefs about Padma’s episode on Enterprise. It is certainly one of the highlights of the Enterprise series.
RO: My two faves will always be William Shatner and Chris Pine because they are totally opposite in how they portray Captain Kirk. Are you a fan of the old Star Wars movies, or the modern ones recently released in theaters?
CHEF JIM: I am a fan of them all, and the new ones are great. And I have to say, if you have not checked out the various fan edits of episode 1-3, they are worth watching. Jar Jar is so much better with an alien voice and edited subtitles.
RO: That sounds really neat! What's in your oven when you cook at home with your wife?
CHEF JIM: At home, we like to make Chinese dumplings, slow cooked meats, and many vegetables.
RO: Cool! I wish I could say I'm a fan of veggies. As you can probably guess, I'm addicted to cheeseburgers. (lol) Are you a Comic Con fan, and do you have any action figures?
CHEF JIM: Con fan: yes. Action figures: who doesn’t?
RO: Don't get me started on my action figures which include vintage Star Wars, Batman, Lord of the Rings and more. I love collecting cookbooks, particularly older ones. Is that something you enjoy as well?
CHEF JIM: I am a big consumer of cookbooks that include new ones, old ones, and those written by friends. Actually, I’m always looking for cookbooks.
RO: It must be pretty awesome to have friends who actually write cookbooks that are on your bookcases! Do you have any pets at home and what’s on your DVR these days?
CHEF JIM: I have two dogs, a little dachshund, and a big shaggy yellow terrier.
On the DVR: all the Star Wars movies, Survivor, The Magicians, and The Expanse. By the way, I can not wait for the new Star Trek.
RO: I like The Magicians as well, but I'm not a fan of Survivor. I mean, how many alliances can you form before being turned on and kicked off the island anyway? (lol) When traveling, which do you prefer - Plane or Train?
CHEF JIM: Trains, but I wish they were faster.
RO: Trains are slow, but looking at the scenery is kind of nice. Would we see you watching Columbo or Miami Vice on television?
CHEF JIM: Columbo 100%
RO: I really liked Miami Vice because of the action, but Columbo is someone I could have been best friends with. I have the entire collection of the shows on DVD, AND whenever it comes on at 7am on the Hallmark Movies and Mystery Channel, I tape it on DVR. How nutty is that, right? (lol) What do you snack on when no one is looking?
CHEF JIM: Gummi Bears
RO: Now that's a super guilty pleasure that I like. Do you watch Jeopardy or any type of sports program?
CHEF JIM: I am a huge Alabama fan. College football is king in the South and I love it.
RO: Nope, give me Jeopardy, Price is Right or Wheel of Fortune instead. Did you gain any weight during the show? Do you do any type of exercise?
CHEF JIM: I did not gain any weight during the show but I did gain a little afterward, and I am trying my best to work it off now. I do some cardio and eat healthy.
RO: I need to be taking a page out of your book with the cardio. What are some of your hobbies?
CHEF JIM: My biggest hobby is fishing.
RO: I fish with a pink pole, but I can't really say I'm any good at it. Finally, the question on everyone's mind: Where will we see Chef Jim Smith in 5 years?
CHEF JIM: I really hope to have a successful restaurant, or a few, and be in the James Beard mix.
RO: That sounds pretty doable to me.
Now you know the scoop! If you want to find out more about Chef Jim Smith, including the subscription food service from www.thecrate.com, visit him on his website or Twitter. You can also check out some of the meals prepared during Top Chef, meet more of the chefs, or purchase Top Chef merchandise by visiting www.Bravo.com.
*Bye Chef Jim (waving goodbye), and we wish you the best in all your endeavors, and thank you for visiting!*