David Viana Knew 'Top Chef' Would Be a Challenge from the Get-Go
The New Jersey chef had big shoes to fill, hailing from the hometown of Tom Colicchio.
Congenial cheftestant David Viana had big shoes to fill as he stepped into the Top Chef kitchen. David is from Asbury Park, New Jersey, known for being the hometown of Jon Bon Jovi, Bruce Springsteen and Top Chef judge and legendary chef, Tom Colicchio, which added a bit of pressure to the competition. He did well through most of the challenges, showing off his technical prowess with seafood and meat cookery, but when the cheftestants were tasked with creating dishes based on a memory of a song in Nashville, the chef seemed flustered in the kitchen. Due to an over-reduced sauce and tough clams that had to be chopped up into small bits to be tender (making them unrecognizable), David was asked to pack his knives and go.
The New Jersey chef behind Heirloom Kitchen emailed us about what he wishes he would have made in the challenge that sent him home, what he admires about each of the remaining contestants and what he’s most grateful for during his time on the show.
Food & Wine: What inspired you to compete on Top Chef?
David Viana: I’ve been a fan of the show since season one. I’ve always admired the talent of the contestants — so many many have gone on to win James Beard awards and pioneer our industry, as well as the chef icons they bring in to judge: Eric Ripert, Sean Brock, Nancy Silverton. I truly loved the idea of being in good company and experiencing the competition first hand.
Lastly, I’ve been cooking professionally for 15 years now, and have an amazing restaurant and cooking school, which I love. It felt like it was the right time to shoot for the stars and maybe highlight what’s happening in New Jersey dining nationally.
FW: What was the biggest lesson during your time on Top Chef? Did you learn something new about yourself or your cooking that you'll take with you?
DV: Cooking at Heirloom I get to explore my passion and creativity everyday. I don’t think I necessarily went on to Top Chef to learn about my cooking. Being around 14 other talented rockstar chefs for a couple months I learned so much about our industry and all of our struggles. How no matter where in the country we are, our experiences are invariably similar. It gave me an amazing perspective and made me very appreciative. So many of us are looking to find our home, that restaurant that is totally us, and I’m so lucky to have that at Heirloom Kitchen.
Ultimately, I would say going on Top Chef gave me gratitude. I’m thankful for where I am, and I’m even more thankful for all my chefs, friends, and family that helped me throughout my career to be here.
FW: What did you think when you first met your competitors and saw them in action?
DV: I’ll never forget the first challenge at Churchill Downs. I thought it was so difficult to have two minutes to coordinate and prep a dish with total strangers. I remember how impossible it felt. Then to see the dish we plated, I was so impressed with my team! Only to find out we were on the bottom. I knew right then and there that everyone here was outstanding and that it was going to take everything I had to distinguish myself from these esteemed chefs.
FW: What do you wish you had done differently in the elimination challenge?
DV: I wish I didn’t over reduce my sauce. I think it was a standout sauce. It had nuance and balance, it was absolutely delicious and would have elevated the dish instead of dragging it down. I also wish they had smaller clams, not giant quahogs. I could have just left the little clams on the plate and it would have even garnished the dish.
FW: If you had to do that music challenge again, would you pick a different dish or song?
DV: If I could do it all again I would probably pick a different dish. Something I know they would have at Whole Foods.
FW: Do you feel like one of your competitors should have gone home instead of you? Who?
DV: I wish someone else had a worse dish! It just wasn’t my day. We all have bad days and Nashville was mine.
FW: Who do you think is going to be Top Chef? And who are you rooting for?
DV: It’s so hard to tell. I can say great things about everyone left. It was a star-studded season! Eddie is so technically sound as a chef and I love the way his mind works. Michelle is so thoughtful as a chef, when she cooks from the heart it’s always a standout dish. Kelsey brings it every time, when she gets more than 15 minutes to think of a dish, she shines. Justin, I wish I had his swagger and talent, he’s a serious threat in the competition. My boy Eric has passion for days and you can taste it on the plate. Adrienne is a boss, bright flavors and attention to detail, you can tell she runs four kitchens.
FW: What's your strategy going into Last Chance Kitchen?
DV: My strategy for is to keep it simple, season well, and cook with confidence. I’ve always loved the Quickfires, thinking quick and being decisive is something I do well. Food always tastes better when you cook with love and confidence.
FW: What did you think when you saw who you would be competing against in Last Chance Kitchen?
DV: I absolutely knew it was going to be Brandon!! He’s so darn talented! All season long I expected he would be in the finale so I was not surprised one bit to see him standing in front of me.