'Top Chef's' Laura Cole on Alaskan Cuisine and That Unfortunate Omelette
The two-time James Beard nominee for Best Chef Northwest runs a remote restaurant in Denali National Park.
A sudden death Quickfire challenge in week 3 shocked the Top Chef audience and cheftestants alike by sending home fierce competitor and huge personality, chef Laura Cole. Before she joined the Top Chef competition, Laura was a two-time James Beard Best Chef Northwest nominee for her work in defining modern Alaskan cuisine at her restaurant 229 Parks Restaurant and Tavern which sits at the entrance to Denali National Park. Her commitment to local, fresh ingredients began when she graduated college and took a job in the kitchen of a lodge at Denali National Park. She then trained at the New England Culinary Institute in Vermont and learned pastry at the Escoffier Institue in Paris. Cole cooked in kitchens around the world, including in Antarctica as the Head Chef at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station. Although her time on Top Chef was brief, she made a huge impression with her warm and open personality and fun facts about Alaska.
Food & WIne: How do you feel about getting eliminated during the sudden death Quickfire?
Laura Cole: It was the worst. I was having a rough day and just couldn’t focus at all. I know it’s all part of the competition but it really rattled me.
FW: What was going through your head during the Quickfire?
LC: It felt surreal. Like I knew I had to execute something but I just couldn’t get it together at all.
FW: Do you feel like you should have gone home? If not, who do you think should have left the competition?
LC: Hell yeah… I mean I didn’t cook my eggs… Really...
FW: Do you wish you had done anything differently in the elimination challenge? What about during your time in the competition?
LC: Yeah, I would have cooked my eggs…
FW: What is a dish or technique you wish you got to show the judges that you never got a chance to cook?
LC: I just wish I had more time to find my groove and really showcase some of my passion and talents.
FW: How did you adjust your cooking style to compete in the Top Chef kitchen?
LC: I wasn’t there long enough to really get into it, you just take each day on the fly.
FW: What did you think when you first met your competitors and saw them in action?
LC: Crazy talented, hilarious, endearing, badass!
FW: What was your favorite dish you made on Top Chef?
LC: I really liked the potluck dish.
FW: You had so many fun Alaska asides on Top Chef. What’s something you wish more people knew about Alaskan cuisine?
LC: We have so many unique foraged ingredients. It would have been really special to be able to have used some of the ingredients I brought and share them with the other chefs.
FW: How did being away from your family in Alaska affect your cooking?
LC: I didn’t realize how much I need and love my family and environment here in Alaska. It was beyond hard to be cut off from all the things that give me strength and confidence.
FW: Who do you think is going to be Top Chef? And who are you rooting for?
LC: Too hard to tell, so much talent.
FW: What is your strategy going into Last Chance Kitchen?
LC: I didn’t really have a strategy and that was likely my downfall. It is a crazy nervewracking experience walking into that kitchen… I would defiantly recommend that chefs come in calm and confident.
FW: Do you have any tricks up your sleeve that you wish you had gotten the opportunity to show the judges?
LC: I just wish I had not let everything get to me. I wish I could have had a better system set up for my son. Then I think I would have really been able to embrace the competition. I would have loved to show more of what I can do.
FW: Would you ever come back for another season of Top Chef? What would you do differently?
LC: At first I didn’t think so, but now I would in a heartbeat. Knowing where my biggest downfalls were. I would set up a better situation for my son and we would both be better prepared to be apart. I would have a stronger voice and more confidence in who I am as a chef. This is an amazing experience and I will be forever thankful.