Justin Devillier La Petite Grocery chef by day, Top Chef cheftestant by nightis now the last New Orleans chef standing on the 11th season of Bravo's addictive cooking competition since Micheal Sichel of Galatoire's was eliminated during a spooky, scary Halloween challenge. The pressure to represent New Orleans' proud culinary tradition might be high, but this could be Devillier's momenthe was recently named the city's Chef of the Year by Eater, and he managed last week to survive both a pig roasting challenge and Dr. John's quixotic search for the "hot tang."
On the most recent Top Chef episode, you guys had to make hot sauce for Dr. John. Is there extra pressure when you have to cook for the celebrity guest judges?
I think that one of my favorite things about New Orleans is that no one really gets star struck. We're kind of used to these celebrities, especially the local guys. They're not local celebritiesthey're just locals. You see them from time to time throughout the year, and they might be in and out of the restaurant. Not necessarily guys on the show, but local celebrities in general. It's something I'm comfortable with, but there's always added pressure when you're competing, and, on top of competing, you're cooking for someone who knows a lot about the city's culture.
Working in the city, did you feel, at least for some of the more New Orleans-centric challenges, that you had a little bit of a homegrown advantage over the other contestants?
From a cooking standpoint, I probably know the cuisine better than most people, but I don't really know if that's an advantage or disadvantage. I'll tell you the advantage I did have, thoughI know where everything's at in Whole Foods, and not everybody else on the show did. That goes a long way. The first time you walk in there, it can be really overwhelming. I don't know what the others felt like, but I knew right where everything was.
You're competing against some really great chefs. Is the pressure of competition on par with the nightly pressure of working in a busy restaurant?
I don't really think too much about the other chefs and what they're capable of, because if I think about that, I feel like it's a waste of my time. I should be thinking about what I can do better. On a day to day basis in the restaurant, you're sort of competing against yourself as well, and you're trying to do better than the day before. It's kind of the same mindset, just with a lot less time and, in general, a more uncomfortable setting.
How has appearing on the show affected your daily routine? Have you gotten more press for the restaurant? Are you busier? Do people accost you in the street?
The community's been very supportive through the whole thing. I get people who stop in for lunch at the restaurant, and they let me know that they're following Top Chef. It's been nice.
Did you sense that community support when you were named Chef of Year by Eater?
It's an honor knowing the vote came from our community of neighbors, friends and family. We are all constantly reminded of how supportive and friendly this city is.
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