Top Chef Masters’ Jody Adams hadn’t watched Top Chef but found it “exhilarating and scary”

One of the Top Chef Masters 2 finalists, Rialto’s Jody Adams, made it to the champions’ round–which starts tonight–after winning the quickfire last week, but before going on the show, she didn’t even know what a quickfire challenge was.

I talked to her after her first episode aired, and Jody called the experience “exhilarating and scary,” in part because she hadn’t watched the show before going on it. “I truthfully didn’t know very much about it at all,” she told me, noting that she had seen some of other unidentified cooking competitions, and “I hadn’t really liked them.” But she said she was familiar with the Bravo series because “my staff talked about Top Chef a lot, and they talked about the characters,” and when she did watch, she “found them to be significantly different than the other competitive shows, and enjoyed them more, but I didn’t know that much.”

When she was asked, “my initial response was, oh no no, that’s not me, that’s not the kind of thing I do,” but her kids and staff told her, “Oh, you have to do it. … It made me think, it’s really easy to put something like competitive reality cooking TV at arms’ length and say, ‘That’s not what I do, and that’s not part of the world I’m interested in’ without knowing anything about it. So I decided I better open the door, stick my food in, find something out about it, and I found that I had a really good time.”

Part of that was because of something viewers and other chefs have noted: it’s a different environment than on the regular Top Chef: “My experience in it was very different than what I saw on the younger Top Chef–in that show, there seems to be more edgy competitiveness going on. Whether that’s the case, I don’t know, because I wasn’t there. I believe that for the most part, the chefs chose to do Top Chef Masters because it was collegial. None of us are in positions in our profession where we want to get into back and forths with the other chefs. We’re all established and accomplished, we know that if somebody’s boat rises, we all rise together. Even though we were all out to win, and so we were extremely competitive in that sense, there wasn’t any reason to go after people in a nasty way. One of the things that really struck me with that group of people that I was with, some more than others, was that we were all doing this together. We were catering an event.”

The chefs even tasted each others’ food, and Jody said that challenge “reminded me of being a line cook and why I loved being a line cook, a team of people all about the same age all doing the same thing with a very similar kind of experience, trying to create an experience for our guests that was the best we possibly could.”

Jody, who is competing to raise money for Partners in Health and its ongoing work in Haiti, told me that she didn’t really prep for the show, even though people suggested she should. “Somebody said, you have to Google and figure out what all the Quickfire challenges are for all of the years–and I didn’t even know what a QUickfire challenge was–and then you should practice them, I was told. Ultimately, I listened again to my children and family and those closest to me who said just be yourself, cook what you know, don’t try and do anything outside of who you are.”

Instead, she won the Quickfire and advanced to the final champions’ round using food she was familiar with. The dishes she cooked in the first round were “definitely those are things that I know how to do. Fig tarts are my favorite thing,” Jody said. That doesn’t mean it was easy, though: “Choosing to do that dish in 45 minutes, in retrospect, was a crazy thing to do.”

She said that the chefs get “a quick” tour of the kitchen first but added, “you know what, I can hardly remember, it was so fast.” She said “the kitchen is unbelievable, it’s really quite amazing … and there’s not really any piece of equipment I thought I was missing, it’s just knowing where everything is. And also, the pantry is incredibly well-stocked.”

During the episode, she hilariously said that the experience was similar to “interrupted sex” because “we cook for an hour and a half, and then we have to stop. … In that time, How can you climax?” Jody told me that cooking in an unfamiliar environment and the TV production meant the experience “was exhausting, and it was back to back to back to back. There’s no time to recover. We shot and then were interviewed after each day of shooting,” Jody told me, adding that after the challenge, “at the end, afterward, we drive back to the studio and then we’re interviewed for hours on end, and then you fall into bed and get up the next morning and do the next thing. Every night I said to myself, do I need to take a shower?”

Going on the show already had a positive impact, “the reason that I did it, aside from the big challenge–at this point of my life, I needed to sort of step outside my box and do something different–I did it also to raise money for Partners in Health. That was extremely important to me. What an amazing platform to reach millions and millions of people,” she said.

Of course, the show will also benefit her and her business, and Jody said her time on the show would “reintroduce the world to me and Rialto and what we do here and the kind of food I serve and who I am–it was great, great, great exposure. And it’s my expectation that it will serve the restaurant incredibly well. And there’s already amazing buzz–I can feel it when I walk through the restaurant, people’s eyes on me. It’s amazing what television does: the power of television is unbelievable. You have to respect it.”

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.