Interview with Top Chef's Robin Leventhal

February 2, 2010

We ask Top Chef  "chef testant" Robin Leventhal of Seattle, about latest food trends, her obsession with poached eggs and how she gets inspired in the kitchen.

When did you start cooking?

As a child my parents went out ALL the time. We occasionally were invited to join them but typically were left to our own devices.  My favorite dinners to make for myself (because my brother lived on Fish Sticks & Tartar sauce– yuck!) were Omelets and twice baked potatoes (I grew up in Idaho)  I still love omelets but rarely do I eat potatoes now (never baked, and only occasionally roasted & fried)

What can you suggest for someone just starting out who wants to learn how to cook?

Scrambled eggs teach you a lot about pan temperature and inclusion of seasoning & Moisture to understand soufflé-esque qualities of an egg.  BUT, hands down my favorite thing to cook is SOUP!  It is also an idea dish as it enables you to clean out the fridge & eliminate waste.  As a chef it teaches you how to maximize the flavor of your ingredients and is an unlimited canvas for flavor profiles.  It offers a new cook the opportunity to learn other cultures versions of both the starter broth or the one pot meal.

We all know chefs don’t eat gourmet every night. What is your ultimate comfort food or quick meal?

Omelet! funny how my childhood still plays a role in my eating habits ; )

BUT of recent I am obsessed with poached eggs….As a young child I was fed too many sunny side up eggs and was grossed out by runny yolks for the longest time.  That has changed in the past couple of years, now the gooier the better. Perhaps I can thank Uni for this!

I also am a big fan of doctored up Ramen…with pan fried onions, garlic, sesame oil, chili flakes and an egg white streamed in like egg flower soup.  A few slivers of sausage if available, cabbage, julienned carrots, broccoli florets & slivered stems take it one step further!  However, I NEVER use the enclosed MSG packet to season the soup.

How do you get inspired in the kitchen?

Often I am driven by what is in the fridge and needs to be eaten.  This of course ties into the season, what is fresh and delicious. That in turn informs how I approach my preparation.  Say it’s summer and there is corn around, am I going to cook corn chowder, a thick heavy cream based soup or am I going to grill it, cut it off the cob and serve it on Grilled Romaine with an Avocado Vinaigrette?  Season dictates how I eat. Inspiration comes from flavor combinations and techniques that I utilize in making the dish.

What cooking tool can you not live without? What tools would you suggest every home cook invest in?

My hands are the tools I use most, then a SHARP knife is the second most important tool!

What food or restaurant trends do you see for 2010? Do you think cupcakes or everything bacon will stick around?

I am not a cupcake fan and they cannot ALL survive.   But I  am a HUGE bacon freak…and it seems to become only a more diverse ingredient so unless someone else invents a food crack better than bacon and caramel, neither are going away anytime soon!  Cupcakes, they might just go back to being at the kids table, and then they may not!

As for trends…it’s all about trying to find the next big unknown. Guanciale is starting to show up, I see that being a star ingredient in the next year!   And how convenient it is in keeping with the Bacon theme!

Arugula was chosen as a must-have green for the White House garden. What is your must-have ingredient in your fridge/garden?

My top 5 that I chose when asked by Top Chef were Shallots, butter. Eggs, thyme and salt!  As for Greens, I am a huge Escarole fan!

Most people say that you never stop learning when it comes to cooking, do you agree with that? What it something you recently learned even after all of your experience?

We hopefully never stop learning when it comes to life!  And cooking is a skilled married with our personal experiences.  If we continue to live, we are hopefully continuing to explore, expose ourselves to new foods and flavors and even revisiting some old ones we have shunned to see if our old ideas are still valid.  Case in point, runny yolks from question #3~

What restaurants, pubs, or bars are you currently frequenting?

I AM A SUCKER FOR ETHNIC FOOD AND CHEEP EATS.  But, that being said, love me some Dustin at Art of the Table, Seth at Emmer and Rye, Renee Erickson at Boat Street Spur Boys rock my world!  And have enjoyed some tasty food at Toulouse in the past few weeks. As for pie, I live next door to Veraci and Delancey is in my hood as well!

What local farms, foragers or gardens are you currently sourcing from?

I am not cooking in a professional capacity right now so I forage at the Farmers Markets, especially Ballard since I live here.  I did a 5 course Oyster dinner the other night with Oyster Bill, that was a blast!  He brought the Bivalves down from Taylor Shellfish of course!

What’s the next big thing you are working on? Where can we currently find you to taste what you are working on?

HAH! The question of the year!  Have a few product ideas I am working on developing but I also have a VERY exciting job interview on Wed…and I cannot talk about that at all so do not even ask! : )



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tiina's picture

A great interview! I loved to read about Robin's ideas of cooking and food - I share the same food philosophy with a lot of things. I liked her spirit and style of cooking in the show - she's such an inspiration! Thanks for sharing, Robin:)

Melissa Peterman's picture

I agree Tiina, I'm looking forward to see where Robin goes next!

Brad's picture

Thanks for sharing the interview, I like top chef and it's interesting to here what happens to the contestants afterwards. I'm glad to hear she is also a Baconaholic...

Melissa Peterman's picture

Hi Brad,

You're so welcome! I believe we are planning to do a series of chef Q &amp; A's so stay tuned!

Donata's picture

Great to see Robin here! I love her personality...can't wait until we chat and I get to hear what this job interview is all about:)

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