Michelle Wallace Left 'Top Chef: Wisconsin' With "Deeper Love and Respect for Myself"

Michelle Wallace

Top Chef is back in the kitchen! Every week, Parade's Mike Bloom interviews the latest chef told to pack their knives and leave Wisconsin.

Cooking can be as subjective and polarizing as art. And no one was that more clear for than Michelle Wallace. The Houston chef came into Top Chef apprehensive, a BBQ pit boss who had started her culinary career later than her competition. But she quickly proved herself when she aced making pasta in the very first challenge, something she hadn't done in years. Michelle impressed throughout the season, picking up three challenge wins and cementing herself as an early frontrunner. But she wasn't without her down days. For example, her failure to conceptualize "Chaos Cooking" nearly eliminated her. Unfortunately for Michelle, her struggles to conceptualize creatively came to hurt her once again in the most recent episode. Tasked with creating a dish that used the table as its surface, timing and a desire to swing for the fences caused her to create a cramped "mosaic" dish that took up an incredibly small amount of space. In the end, despite her previous successes, Michelle was dinged for both the concept and execution of her dish, eliminating her.

Read on to hear Michelle's thoughts on her time in the game.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Top Chef Season 21

How did you end up getting onto Top Chef, and what was your preparation to get on, if any?
A former cheftestant submitted my name to the powers that be, and I went through the application/interview process. My mind is still blown from being selected!! I tried to watch as many past seasons as possible to help me mentally get into competition mode. Oddly enough, I didn't do much cooking to get prepared. I didn't want to cram for this. I felt like that would make me tense and not allow pure creativity to flow.

You came into the first challenge with clear anxiety about making pasta. How surprised were you to be the best in your group, and how did that inform your confidence moving forward?
I was extremely surprised about being on top in that challenge. I hadn't made pasta in so many years and many of the other chefs were well versed in pasta making. To be honest, I just wanted to at least fall in the middle to survive the challenge. Being on top definitely let me know that I belong there and that winning this is truly in my reach. A much-needed boost to my confidence.

Talk me through your reaction to your first win during the cheese challenge.
 My first win was incredible. The fact that the crowd had a hand in choosing the winner was the key. My goal was to make a dish that the majority of the crowd would love as well as the judges. I was able to do that and simply have some fun with it. Festivals are meant to be fun. And on that day, things were just clicking for me, and fun was being had.

You go from winning a Quickfire to hitting your low point in the competition during the "Chaos Cooking" challenge. Talk to me about how much that brush with elimination changed the way you cooked moving forward.
The Chaos Cooking challenge was a tough one for me. I had never heard of that term before then. Being on the bottom definitely makes you think about all the things. Am I going far enough in my ideas? Is my execution on point? It just really made me lock in and really swing for the fences with every challenge going forward.

That said, how did it then feel to bounce back and win the sausage race the very next episode?
That felt so amazing!! In a group of chefs that are so talented, to pull out a win at any point, is so incredible. That challenge was right up my alley. I had a clear idea and had fun executing that dish.

You hit another low point in the indigenous cooking challenge, which you said had you questioning if you were mentally strong enough to continue. Talk to me more about that.
At this point of the competition, fatigue starts to creep in. Mentally and physically. The days are long and the challenges are getting even more tough. To push through all of that and still be highly creative is truly a challenge. It is so awesome to see how we all deal with that aspect of this beautiful competition.

We get a glimpse of your relationship with Savannah as each other's closest people in the game. Talk to me more about that.
Savannah is my GIRL!! She is just so fun and so smart and so talented. I think we bonded over the fact that we didn't have huge connections to some of the bigger named chefs in this industry, when many of the other chefs had some awesome and dope experiences with some recognizable names and restaurant groups.

Let's get into this week's challenge. Why did you choose to not go with a seafood boil, given the table theming? And how do you look back on the decision?
I had just done the fish boil in the previous challenge. So my thought was to give the judges something different from that. I also thought hard about doing a BBQ themed table, but I was concerned with time and getting enough smoke into my dishes. My ideas were really coming to me slowly for this challenge. I was just not into plating on this table and couldn't pull together a solid idea. And that was my downfall. I was never settled in my idea and it totally showed in my final dish.

You mentioned a few times how you're not creative in a visual artistic way. How tough was it for you to conceptualize what to make on the table?
It was super tough for me! That table was such a large canvas to create on. And having to make that amount of space visually appealing and tasty seemed like such a massive thing. I just could not pull together a solid idea. I was second guessing myself the whole time.

Let's talk about the execution of your dish. What caused your mosaic style to get thrown away in favor of a very compact plating?
Time!! I struggled with getting all of my components finished in a timely fashion which then caused a lack of time to create a larger mosaic. I was striving for a larger-scaled mosaic, but didn't make it in time

It's clear you weren't surprised to be in the bottom or eliminated. What was going through your mind as Judges' Table went along?
I knew that I had just completed my worst dish. It's so unfortunate that it came at this point of the competition. I believed that my Quickfire dish was strong ,and hearing what Manny's critique was, I had a tiny tiny amount of hope that I would survive. I was praying hard...but I didn't!

You talked at one point about starting your culinary career late, and not knowing how you stacked up to the competition. How did you view yourself differently after your time in Wisconsin?
Yo!! I have such a deeper love and respect for myself. What I was able to do in this competition was so freaking incredible. Competing on Top Chef is HARD, and being able to perform at such a high level and have some success within the competition has truly been validating for me. I no longer feel like I started this career late. I'm right on time. This pitmaster/chef is in her own lane and a complete badass! I'm so excited for what's to come!!

Next, check out our interview with Soo Ahn, who was eliminated in Top Chef: Wisconsin Episode 10.