There are six Chicago hopefuls in the first episode: Heather Terhune from Sable; Chris Jones and Richie Farina from Moto; Sarah Grueneberg from Spiaggia; Beverly Kim from Aria; and you, of Chilam Balam. Who was your strongest competitor?
I really can’t give any major details about it. But I can say that I think everybody’s, like, ridiculously talented, and it humbles you as a chef to be around people like that. I met some really cool people, and for the most part, I’m glad I did it.
What do you mean “for the most part”?
Except my fucking casting video. Oh, God.
How did that happen?
Well, see, that’s my stupid fault. And to clear the record: I am a loudmouth guy. But none of the shit that I said in that video’s true! The English [soccer] games are on TV here, like, at 9:30 in the morning. So we all pile into a bar…we’re watching the game, we’re drinking pints and having a good time. All of a sudden, sometime in the afternoon—from what’s told to me by the bartender, I don’t remember this—I guess a reminder came up on my phone and it said, like, “Top Chef Interview,” and I was like, “Oh, crap.” And I told them, “I’m gonna catch a cab, I’ll be right back, keep my tab running.”
The first thing you’re quoted saying is, “I love my haters.” Who hates you?
I don’t think anybody hates me! Honestly. It was just a bunch of ranting. My friends know me, they know that I can be a loudmouth when I’ve had a few. But I’m not an aggressive dude. I’m not a mean guy, either. Like, I don’t think anybody really hates me, you know? From the way that you see reality TV is really done, you obviously know that the people with the biggest personalities are gonna be the ones who are gonna make it in. So I don’t know if I just got in there and just started talking out of my ass going like, “Oh, I just want to be, like, the fucking Charlie Sheen of Top Chef and this’ll get me in, right?” So that must have been it. The only true thing out of the whole thing is that I actually am a Justin Bieber fan.
A couple times in the video, you talk about Chilam Balam as “mind-fucking” people—
And it doesn’t! We don’t do that. We make good ol’, nice, refined Mexican food. We don’t mind-fuck people. This was around the time that I was watching that great movie Get Him to the Greek with Puff Daddy, and he was talking about mind-fucking the whole time, and I just thought it was hilarious. So it was, like, one of those jokes I’m cracking with my friends, and again, it’s just drunk babble.
No, it’s not funny! My mom’s not really happy with me right now. I was raised by a good family. I don’t talk like this. Unless, I’m, like, drunk, I guess.
What did your mom say?
She was just like, “I don’t know why you bleep so much.” And I was just like, “I’m sorry, Mom.” She’s like, “No, it’s okay. It’s just that everyone else seems so much nicer in their videos.”
You also casually drop in the video having sex with ten women in one week and having an “STD/pregnancy” scare.
That never happened, either! None of that crap ever happened. I’m not gonna say that I haven’t had my little party-boy days and all that kind of shit and whatever, but that never happened. I think there’s this common belief among a lot of people that chefs live, like, the rock-star lifestyle. And sure, a lot of these guys get out of hand, and it’s nothing against them, I’ve gotten out of hand before. I’ve gotten to where I’ve thought of my drinking as borderline problematic, and you learn ways to cope and deal with the stress of a restaurant differently, or you just start to get a little bit more willpower, which is pretty hard to do, I mean, seriously. It’s not that I haven’t had a good time and that stuff—just not that good of a time as I say in the video. I mean, come on, if I were to get you pretty sloshed and put a camera in front of you, you’d probably say some dumb shit, am I right?
But again, it’s my own fault. I’m not gonna slam anybody else for it. But when it came out I was like, “Ugh, great, my girlfriend’s gonna dump me….” Ultimately, the people who know me, know me. I don’t know how many judgmental people there are out there [who] just see a video and go, “Oh, that guy’s an asshole,” or “That guy’s really fuckin’ funny,” or whatever it is. I guess if you want to get to know me, come [to Chilam Balam] and see me. I’m a nice guy. I keep peppermint candies in my pockets at all times.
That’s not true, is it?
That’s incredibly creepy.
They’re actually Werther’s.
Top Chef season nine premieres Wednesday 2 at 9pm on Bravo. Watch Valencia’s audition tape at bravotv.com/top-chef.