Top Chef's First Loser Elia Speaks Out

'Top Chef All-Stars' premiered on Bravo last night, and L.A.-based chef Elia Aboumrad was the unlucky soul to be cut first. The elimination challenge demanded that contestants re-cook the dish that got them kicked off the show in former seasons. The judges declared Aboumrad's steamed red snapper undercooked, and under-manipulated—and despite her last-ditch protest, gave her the boot. Today she told The Feast that although she still feels humiliated, she wouldn't change a thing, and that people came back rude and crazy to the All-Stars show. The good news according to Aboumrad: Missing out on the $200k prize money will not delay the mid-2011 opening of her new L.A. restaurant Avec Moi.

Why did you put yourself through this a second time?
I had hoped that things were going to be different this time, that it was going to be a lot more about the food and less of a personality contest. I came back because I like competing and I truly believed that I had what was needed to win. I was told that it was going to be people who made it to the end that were going to be on it so I thought it could be fun.

Was it harder than the first time around?
Culinary-wise, no. It was just very surprising to see the way people where acting. I would have thought people were going to come back much more mature and knowing how things go down on 'Top Chef,' but no. People came back crazy! Taking it so hard, like [if it were] brain surgery. People were rude.

My season was crazy but we were never rude like this to each other in the kitchen. Here there was no respect for the kitchen, for the ingredients, for the utensils. It was just a war, and I was very surprised to see that. People would elbow you, take things from underneath you, break things in order to open them. Behavior that you don’t see in kitchens. You shouldn't have that if you want to be a top chef, but maybe that's what they're looking for.

Where did you go wrong?
I felt fine. I'm comfortable with my dish. I didn’t even think I was going to be in the bottom three. I'm very confused with their decision, very disappointed, definitely very humiliated. I don’t think anything went wrong. I was so surprised I can't explain it.

Some of the criticism was that the dish didn't improve enough upon the original. What would you have done differently?
If I would be under the same circumstances at the Russian Tea Room following the rules that were given to us with the ingredients that I had—I would do exactly the thing that I did. I don’t think I should have changed anything. I don’t see how I could have changed it to please them, because at the end of the day they're still contradictive [sic] to please.

You said in the episode you should have tested one and it didn’t cook fully because the leaves were too thick...
The rest of my phrase [which was edited by the producers] was "I should have… but I didn’t have enough leaves." Because I didn't have enough to serve them. That's why I didn't test them.

What would you have done with the $200,000?
I was going to put it towards my restaurant that I am opening here in L.A. called Avec Moi. It's going to be French fine-dining. Old school French classics but revisited with a very slight twist. I think it will be opening by the beginning of summer. I'm very thankful to God. I do have investors so [the cash prize] was going to be extra money in the bank. The look is going to be like old French brothel, like card-game room, but softened with modern details. [The Feast]

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