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'Top Chef: Wisconsin's Valentine Howell Jr. Was Surprised By His Elimination

Valentine Howell Jr.

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.

When Valentine Howell Jr. told us his cooking could be described as "eclectic," it should have made him a shoo-in to do well on Top Chef: Wisconsin. After all, the Emmy-winning reality show is all about thinking outside the box and fitting to the toughest and oddest scenarios to stretch your culinary expertise. Unfortunately for Valentine, the competition was far from in love with him. He struggled to put his personality on a plate, finishing at the bottom of the first Quickfire challenge. He followed that up with an unsatisfactory soup, which put him in the bottom again. In the end, the judges determined that the bar snack challenge would be the last call for Valentine.

Read on to hear Valentine's thoughts on her time in the game, and check out Last Chance Kitchen to watch Valentine and other eliminated chefs fight for redemption and a chance to get back into the competition.

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

How did you get onto Top Chef, and what was your preparation to get on, if any?
I was contacted about joining the competition. It was definitely on my bucket list of things to do in my career. I have been watching the show since it began. Regarding preparation for the show, I honestly didn't get much time. I was running the restaurant, working full time. I didn't really get the luxury of dedicating much time to preparing for the show or support from them as a whole. But I did my research on the great state of Wisconsin and all the culinary delights it has to offer. On my off-time, I would make a recipe or time myself for a Quickfire or do a longer challenge. So, I did do my due diligence.

You mentioned before the bar snacks challenge that you felt you couldn't put yourself on a plate. How difficult was it for you to show your "eclectic" cooking while also following the competition rules?

It was pointed out how much your team favored fine dining in the Elimination Challenge and how the plating reflected that. However, the judges remarked that they didn't understand your team's progression. What's your reaction to that?
I think it just took that route naturally. I feel like, collectively, our minds just went there. The challenge was to, yes, make a progressive menu/meal, but also elevate the ingredients, and plating was a part of that. I don't get how it was so difficult to understand. We coursed the plates out according to what we thought made the most sense to us as a team. 

Talk about how you conceived your beer and corn soup idea. Do you feel, as the judges said, that you shied away from the ingredient you were supposed to highlight?
I have never worked with using corn nuts in any of my cooking. The most experience I have had with them is eating them at a bar. My mind immediately went to soup for some reason, and I just went with it. I talked to the team, and they thought it made sense since there is usually a soup course as part of a progressive meal. I thought the combination of fresh corn for its sweetness and the toasted flavor of the nuts would work in addition to the Miller High Life, which I believe gave another dimension of flavor to it, and finished with crushed ones to add some texture for an elevated gastropub fare.  

The judges said your dish's viscosity was off, even saying it was more of a sauce than a soup. How did that issue end up happening?
I didn't think that the viscosity was off. I thought I took great care in making sure it wasn't thick or gloopy because I know corn can be very starchy and get to that point. Up until plating, I was making sure I had tasted it and got second opinions. Maybe if I had worded it differently, they would have had a different perception of the dish. I was still happy with the dish I put out and how it looked and tasted.

Were you surprised to get eliminated over Kévin and Charly?
I honestly was a bit surprised. Just by hearing the comments on all our dishes that they gave, I thought I would have been safe from elimination. But the cards fell where they did, and that's ok. Hats off to both those guys. They are amazing chefs and people.

Finally, you mentioned your relationship with your daughter. What's it been like for her to watch her father get to compete on national TV?
She said, "It is so cool to see you on TV. You're so funny, and you look great on camera." All her friends and even the teachers are commenting about how she has a famous father. They even showed the first episode in her class (her math teacher is a fan of the show). It has been a really proud moment for both of us, and she has just been relishing in the moment.

Next, check out our interview with Top Chef season 20 winner Buddha Lo.