The Top Chef Duels competition is really about to heat up, as Antonia Lofaso is returning to the Top Chef kitchen tonight. The finalist from both Top Chef: Chicago and Top Chef All-Stars is trading culinary blows with her All-Stars castmate Mike Isabella in this evening's matchup - but before the knives came out, we spoke to Antonia on Tuesday about returning to the TV show fold and what's going on at her two California restaurants, Black Market and Scopa.
Antonia certainly doesn't have anything to prove in the Top Chef universe; she placed fourth in her first season and third in her second season. So why come back for a third time? "To be honest, it's almost like that dysfunctional relationship that you just keep coming back to," she laughed. "It's almost a competition in itself where it's like, who's doing it? Who am I competing against?"
The answer would be the guy who placed just ahead of her in All-Stars. Asked whether knowing her opposite number was a good thing, she told us, "I definitely am happy that they chose somebody that I knew. You kind of know what their strengths and weaknesses are, espeically spending an entire season with them." That can be particularly helpful with the setup of Duels, in which each competing chef gets to design one of the two initial challenges.
"It was like a roller coaster of emotions for Mike and I," Antonia reflected. "We're both kind of in the same place. We both opened restaurants and we're both enjoying our success...This is our third time on Top Chef and we really kind of took it to heart. We both just kind of came out of it better on the other end, because of how much we've grown and the relationships we've made. In general for both of us, it was a really amazing experience."
As much as she gained from her culinary competing, TV is just one part of her multifaceted career. Antonia has two eateries in the Southern California area: Black Market in Studio City and Scopa in Venice. What can diners expect when they walk into either establishment? "Both of my restaurants are very heartfelt. Everything I do in them is very me," she explained. "It's been the first time I've been able to cook the food that I like to cook, which is comforting, straightforward, very thoughtful.
"I have Black Market, which is American eclectic. It's this medley of all these different flavors of the United States," she continued. "Scopa is basically a tribute to the American Italian. It's my version of American Italian food that I grew up eating as a kid in Long Island, New York." You can find out more about each restaurant by clicking their names above.
With other reality TV shows, we hear singers and performers talk about the exposure they get from being on the small screen. We asked Antonia if that also happens in the culinary world. As it turns out, she has a pretty good way of looking at the TV experience. "A lot of the times, the restaurants that I open, I don't do a lot of publiclity using Top Chef. What I like to do is just kind of let it open and people find out about it," she said. "When people come in and the neighborhood loves it, and then all of a sudden find out that I'm the chef there, it becomes even more exciting.
"People, you can get them through the door on the idea of them loving you from seeing you on a show, but they're not going to keep coming back unless the place is good," she continued. "At the end of the day, we're all chefs and we have to stay true to our craft. That fame only lasts like a second and our craft lasts forever."
It's clear that she considers herself a chef first, and a television competitor second. Between that down to earth attitude, a real dedication to her craft, and a proactive approach, Antonia is a real top chef. She's been able to oversee two distinct restaurants, actually cook in said restaurants, write a cookbook, travel around the country to various culinary events, and step back into the best known culinary competition there is - all while living her life, including as a single parent. When we talk about career women, it's women like Antonia we ought to look up to.
Although she does give herself a break every now and then. Asked if she ever takes a night to just throw something in the microwave, "All the time," she laughed. "At the end of the day, I'm a human being!" Just one who knows how to unpack her knives and go serve up the competition.
Antonia's episode of Top Chef Duels airs tonight at 10 PM ET/PT on Bravo. For more on everything she has in the works, be sure to visit her official website (chefantonia.com).