'Top Chef's' Bruce Kalman on Becoming a Dad While Filming the Show
Bruce Kalman had an emotional journey on Top Chef this season, finding fast friends in fellow competitors Tyler Anderson and Joe Flamm—“the bears”—and competing on the show while his son Jude Paul was born. He had a tumultuous time on the show—after a couple surprise appearances in the bottom three he embraced the judges' criticisms and doubled down on cooking his cuisine, catapulting him to the top and giving him elimination challenge wins and nods. But last week saw the Pasadena-based chef pack his knives after a very personal showdown.
Prior to Top Chef, Bruce worked his way through prominent kitchens in New York at David Burke’s Park Ave Café, in Chicago at Okno, Green Dolphin, and Coco Pazzo, in Santa Fe at Il Piatto, in Pheonix at Chelsea’s Kitchen, and ultimately in Los Angeles at Misfit and the Churchill. In 2014 he opened his flagship restaurant Union in Pasadena with Marie Petulla. Since then he's used Union to launch KP Hospitality, which includes the Knead & Co. Pasta Bar + Market at Grand Central Market in Downtown Los Angeles. Bruce’s work at Union has earned him a James Beard nomination for Rising Star Chef and successful appearances on Bravo’s Best New Restaurant and Chopped. We asked the chef to talk about new fatherhood and competing on Top Chef as one of the more accomplished contestants.
Food & Wine: You appeared to struggle conceptually with your last two challenges after a pretty strong showing up to that point—what factors played into your performance this past episode?
Bruce Kalman: I was definitely feeling unfocused by that point. It was tough knowing my son was at home waiting for me to meet him, a journey that has lasted 14 years, and I couldn’t stop thinking about him, as well as the fact that my wife had to bear the burden of everything while I was away. Coupled with the fact that my mind doesn’t work the way the challenges were presented, to create a dish inspired by your worst nightmare and your Top Chef journey, it's just not what I do! I got too caught up in worrying about the story, and I made dumb mistakes. I had toasted my barley the night before during the prep and that coupled with the altitude, it just wouldn’t cook. That made me panic, and everything rolled downhill from there. My dish was great conceptually, but I let the flaws get the better of me
F&W: Do you feel that you deserved to go home for your dish? If not, why do you think you deserved to stay?
BK: On Top Chef, the best of the best go home for making little mistakes; I made 3! I definitely deserved to go home. I had hoped Chris’ dish was a bigger disaster than mine, but I was at peace with the fact that I was headed out of the competition.
F&W: You made quite a bit of pasta this season, which Padma called you out on couple of times. Do you think her criticism was fair?
BK: I totally get it. I agree I kept ending up making pasta, but its my strength. I should’ve maybe ventured out a bit more, but it is what it is, I guess. In retrospect, I should’ve cooked other foods.
F&W: You had a lot of experience with food television prior to coming onto Top Chef—what inspired you to apply for this show?
BK: I was always dead set against going away for seven weeks and living in a house with a bunch of crazy chefs and pushing myself to the limits. All of the other shows were a one day shoot pretty much, so it took some convincing for me to move forward with it. Once I was in the middle of the application process I started to get very excited about it. I had a discussion with Brooke W[illiamson] and Michael V[oltaggio] about it and they gave me some great advice.
F&W: You also seemed to know a lot of the guest judges prior to their appearances on the show. How did that influence the dishes you decided to make (if at all)?
BK: It didn’t necessarily influence the dishes I prepared, as much as it added a whole other layer of pressure for me. These people all know me, have eaten my cooking, and I didn’t want to disappoint them.
F&W: What dish were you most proud of?
BK: I would have to say I was most proud of my (mandolin) cavatelli with wild boar sugo and fresh ricotta I made at Estes Park.
F&W: What’s something you wish you got to cook but didn’t get a chance to?
BK: Some seafood, and definitely my porchetta.
F&W: Who of the remaining chefs are you rooting for to win?
BK: I love them all, it's honestly too hard to root for any one of them.
F&W: How was reuniting with the bears to cook at the James Beard house and on some recent talk shows? Do the three of you plan to embark on other food endeavors together?
BK: We are taking the Bear “Band” on tour! No, just kidding! But we are doing some dinners coming up, some all three of us, some just a couple with other TC contestants. We are great friends and its a blast getting back together when we can.
F&W: Congratulations on the birth of your son Jude! What was it like to finally come home from the competition and see him?
BK: Like nothing I’ve ever felt before. I am so in love with him, he is a blessing in our lives, and totally worth the wait! I picked him up for the first time and cried like a little baby!
F&W: Where can we get your “Porcetta Bout It” shirt?
F&W: Would you ever come back for another season of Top Chef?
BK: Up until now I didn’t even have to think about it, it was a hard NO! But honestly, in the right circumstances, I would probably do it again, just have to get in better shape!