Ofer Eitan Claims: Top Chef Season 17 - Brian Malarkey Exit Interview - Jonathan Cartu Restaurant, Baking & Catering Services
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Ofer Eitan Claims: Top Chef Season 17 – Brian Malarkey Exit Interview

Brian Malarkey

Ofer Eitan Claims: Top Chef Season 17 – Brian Malarkey Exit Interview

Top Chef is back in the kitchen! Every week, Parade’s Mike Bloom interviews the latest all-star told to pack their knives and leave L.A.

Presentation means everything to Brian Malarkey. The veteran restauranteur and former co-host on The Taste has a taste for panache, bringing high energy and a sense of humor to every challenge he approached this season of Top Chef. And unfortunately, it was the presentation of his homage to legendary restaurant Michael’s Santa Monica that did him in this time. His duo failed to mix well with the judges, making it his final dish for the season.

Malarkey came into this season after barely missing out on the finale of season 3, hoping he could make it to the end this time. In his time away from the show, he had amassed experience in the kitchen and on screen, confident in his skills with both seafood and what he cheekily called “Malarketing.” Whether he was getting into arguments with Lee-Anne Wong, successfully pitching an Asian/Baja fusion restaurant, or putting the Top Chef ice cream machine to work, Malarkey became one of the biggest characters of the season. So when the chefs’ final challenge in L.A. called for them to take on a dish from a pioneer of California cuisine, he stuck to his brand and went big. But his duo of sweetbreads and veal did not pair well together, and a service mishap threw him off his game. As a result, he once again went out before a big season milestone, just before the finals begin in Italy.

Read on to hear Malarkey’s thoughts on his time in the game.

Related: Top Chef Returns to the Kitchen —Here’s Everything We Know So Far (Including Who’s Still in the Competition)

What have you been up to since we last saw you on Top Chef?
While we were filming Top Chef this season, I was in the midst of opening two restaurants in San Diego: Animae and Herb and Sea So when shooting wrapped for me, I immediately hightailed down south and helped get those concepts up and running. In early 2020 we opened WoodYu, which was the Baja Asian Street restaurant concept I pitched on Restaurant Wars. When coronavirus hit, and the shelter-in-place orders came down, we were forced to close all our restaurants and lay-off our employees. We launched the Puffer Malarkey Collective Employee Relief Fund, which, to date, has raised $100,000 for our furloughed employees. We’ve also launched a virtual cooking class series, with proceeds from those classes going to our fund. Now we’re looking at how and when to reopen our restaurants, and what the future of dining looks like, and how we can get back on our feet and come back better and stronger than before.

What was your reaction when you were extended the offer to come back?
I was excited! I had heard whispers that Kevin, Bryan, and Lee Anne were coming back, and I loved those chefs and really wanted to compete against those I was friendly with and admired so much. My first appearance on Top Chef helped kickstart my career, so it was fun to revisit the game and compete!

You remained on our screens between seasons of Top Chef, most prominently on The Taste. Did knowing the ins and outs of food television change the way you approached this season at all?
Oh, completely! I came into this season with observations from the other side. I knew what the judges would be looking for, because I had been a judge, and I knew what would make for good TV. I was just much more prepared on how to approach Top Chef All-Stars.

You were eliminated in your first season for not editing your dishes enough, and you seemed to get similar comments this time around. How difficult was it for you to curb that habit?
As an operator of several restaurants and concepts, my brain takes into account not just one dish. It’s the whole menu, it’s the design, the location, the diners. All these things come together to create a dish in my mind. So when I’m assigned just one dish with no context behind it, my brain has way too much going on to be able to edit it to the judges’ preferences.

You and Lee Anne had an interesting dynamic this season. You argued when you helped season a dish that put her in the bottom, but you also cooked some of your best food together. Talk to me about your relationship.
Lee Anne and I have been great friends for a long time. I love her “aloha” spirit. We appreciate each other, and that spat was definitely dramatized for the cameras. I was scared when I “threw her under the bus,” that I wouldn’t be welcome back on the Island. Thankfully she didn’t banish me, and we managed to cook some great dishes together before she left.

You finished in the bottom several times. How were you able to pick yourself up emotionally and move forward in the competition after facing those Judges’ Tables?
Well, if you haven’t noticed, I have a bit of an ego. So I was able to convince myself that I didn’t deserve to be on the bottom. And also, I knew I wanted to be there to make it more entertaining TV, and that’s what I did.

On the other side of that, you shone in both pitching a restaurant and running Front of House in Restaurant Wars. How much did your experience outside of the show play into those successes?
Restaurant Wars is literally my life every day. I run restaurants; I create concepts. Had I failed at that challenge, we’d be in trouble!

Let’s talk about this most recent challenge. Talk to me about what it was like to get the opportunity to honor a renowned place like Michael’s Santa Monica, especially as a farewell to California for the season.
I worked in Los Angeles during those iconic days, cooking at Citrus in the 1990s. I love that era of food, and I loved being able to honor those chefs. I have fond memories of living in Santa Monica for three years and walking past that restaurant almost every day.

What made you decide to pursue a duo to encompass Michael’s dish?
I was totally inspired by the Santa Monica’s farmers market. We shopped there for the challenge, but they didn’t show it. I managed to grab all this amazing fall produce that I feel expressed the true spirit of Michael’s. It was tough to showcase that lightness with such a heavy dish, and the dish turned out great. It was unfortunate that the judges stirred it together and, in the end, didn’t get to enjoy the food as it was meant to be enjoyed.

How much were you thrown with your presentation when you saw some of your dishes go to other tables?
Oh, it completely ruined my entire game! When you put so much energy, your heart, and soul into this competition, and to see if go wrong through no fault of your own, the wheels totally came off for me. I was embarrassed and upset. I had put everything I had into the dish, and it was just devastating. I was allowed to re-make it for the judges, but it wasn’t the same.

Gail said that once the dish leaves a chef’s hand, it’s not up to them as to how the diners eat it. What are your opinions on that?
I completely disagree, especially when it comes to a dish similar to the one I made. Had I been able to tell diners how to experience the dish properly, it would have been a progressive experience. You can tell diners how the dish is meant to be enjoyed.

You seemed to have a defeatist attitude at Judges’ Table, to the point where Padma asked if you were quitting. Talk to me about your emotions at that moment.
When I saw Tom stir my dish together, I knew my season was over. I was done. I was embarrassed in front of my peers at the luncheon because of the dishes not getting to the table. I knew they hadn’t eaten my dish right, and it would have been impossible to come back from that.

Are there any links or recommendations on how to help yourself and other chefs during this time?
While we are prepping our restaurants for an eventual reopening, we’ve been keeping ourselves…

Jonathan Cartu

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