Top Chef is back in the kitchen! Every week, Parade’s Mike Bloom interviews the latest chef told to pack their knives and leave Portland.
Top Chef: Portland may just be the emotionally toughest season of the Emmy-winning cooking competition yet. In a time where the restaurant industry is on the ropes and contestants are experiencing isolation in a high-stakes game, there are many feelings attached to success or failure. And perhaps no one felt that more this season than Tucson chef Maria Mazon. Maria started the season feeling uneasy, finishing in the middle for the first four episodes. What kept her going was thinking of her family and building a new one on the show, especially through all the fellow Latinx chefs she was competing alongside.
While the first half of Maria’s season was filled with steadiness, the second half had nothing but highs and lows. There were victories, winning her first challenge of the season in a Restaurant Wars service the judges were calling the best the show had ever seen. And there were defeats, like when the exhaustion of cooking for first responders weighed heavy on her shoulders, making her think of her firefighter wife back home. Speaking of home, it was a taste of life outside the Top Chef bubble that did Maria in. She was tasked with creating a dish using ingredients from a care package from home and attempted to use as much of the box as possible. But sentimental value overrode culinary value here, as the judges felt her salad was not up to snuff. Tears were flowing that night, between winner Kristen Kish telling Maria she was good enough for this competition, and Jamie Tran even offering to go in her place. But she refused to let Jamie fall on her sword, thanking the judges for allowing her to discover she was indeed a high-caliber chef.
Read on to hear Maria’s thoughts on her time in the game.
Related: Everything You Need to Know About Top Chef Season 18
Before anything, we need to start with what happened at your elimination. Were you expecting Jamie to offer herself up to keep you safe?
Hell no! I was not expecting it. Of course, I was not going to let her do that! I adore Jamie, but if the judges decided it was my time, it was my time.
You immediately refuse to let Jamie quit, leading to the dramatic scene that you say is straight out of a telenovela. What made you have that reaction in the heat of the moment?
Everything is so raw. We are tired and, of course, missing home. I’m not ashamed of crying and owning my emotions. So bring the telenovela on!
What compelled you to apply for Top Chef, especially in the middle of the pandemic when things are so hard on the restaurant industry?
I was blessed to be invited to apply, then went through the whole process. I told my team if I go, it’s to keep the restaurant going, so they were not out of a job. So I went.
You’ve admitted that you felt you were outmatched at the beginning of the season. Was there a point of time when that thinking began to fade?
I saw the caliber of chefs from the beginning, and there I was. I have never worked under anyone, I have never been a sous chef, I paid my dues in a different way! I had a restaurant, and I needed to make it work, so I started working. In the experience department, I was definitely a little “green.” But when it came to the business side, bring it!
You got to connect with several chefs with Latinx connections this season, including Nelson, Byron, and Gabe. How did it feel getting to bond over your backgrounds in such a tense competition?
Dios Mio, I love them boys! They are my brothers, and I’m lucky to have them now in my life. During the competition, I have to be honest; I was my own biggest threat.
Right before the movie challenge, you said you had never been more doubtful of yourself until you got to talk with your family. What was it about that chat that got your head back in the game?
I was in the middle, so I never heard anything good, bad, or meh. That can get to anyone! But talking to my family made me realize where I was and why I was doing it. So I shook it off and continued.
You get your first challenge win in Restaurant Wars. How did it feel not only to win that challenge, but hear from the judges it was one of the best performances in the show’s history?
To own that win is and will always be amazing. Going back to what I said before, when you are a chef and owner, you have to do it all. And that is what I showed!
There were a couple of times, both in this most recent challenge and the frontline workers challenge, where you admitted your emotions got in the way of your cooking. How tough is it to prevent that from happening, considering the personal connections you have to the challenges?
I cook with my heart, and I love it! So if it gets in the way, I will deal with it. I cook with love. If someone that I don’t know is eating my food, I need to make it with love, don’t you think?
To that point, did you agree with the judges’ comments that you had only put in ingredients because of your family connection?
Yes and no. That was my call, and I own it, so I made a mistake. I knew better. But again, there is nothing I can do now!
At Judges’ Table, you talk about feeling intimidated. How did it feel to have the judges and Kristen talk about self-worth and your level of talent?
That was the best thing for me. As chefs, we are passionate people. It was the best to feel and see someone of her caliber show me it’s ok, and at the end of the day, everything will be ok.
You said you wanted to be on Top Chef to prove to your son, “if you try, you will get there.” Ultimately, do you think you were able to do that?
Hell yes! I went, I cooked, and I met amazing people. I learned, and he got to see me on tv. I’m showing him that he can do whatever he wants as long it is with love and pride. Hard work pays off!
Finally, are there any links or recommendations on how to help the restaurant during this time, either for chefs or patrons?
I just want to tell everyone to be patient with restaurants. Understand the demand and enjoy it with understanding. Everyone is in the same boat with short staffing, service, etc. But if you are dining out, enjoy it and take deep breaths. (Laughs.)
Next, check out our interview with Byron Gomez, who was eliminated in episode 10.
Source: Thanks https://parade.com/1222879/mikebloom/top-chef-portland-18-maria-mazon/