|The image of Chef Jamie Lauren yawning off the advances of lust-struck Chef Stefan is probably emblazoned in the memory of every Season 5 fan. His relentless pursuit became a humorous subplot that sometimes overshadowed the actual food competitions. But more importantly we also remember that Jamie was a culinary force to be reckoned with; so I was delighted when given the opportunity to speak with her.
Even before she became one man's tattooed fantasy on national television, this honors graduate of the Culinary Institute of America was a familiar face in the San Francisco bay area. In 2005 she was named one of the San Francisco Chronicle's "Rising-Star Chefs." As executive chef of the upscale Absinthe Brasserie & Bar , her eclectic "American-influenced French and Italian menu" has always received a lot of favorable press. She was also known to frequently lend her considerable talent to a variety of charitable fundraisers. Nothing much has changed now, except that her participation on Top Chef tipped her popularity - well - over the top.
Jamie grew up in New York City, part of a "foodie family" that dined out nearly as often as they cooked at home. Jamie describes her palate as slightly picky, yet undeniably open to bold flavors. In fact she distinctly remembers launching her lifelong love affair with Indian food at the tender age of four. On the more mundane side of things, this otherwise-adventurous eater still eschews eggs. She hated them as a kid, and still hates 'em now. So there.
Like most of us, Jamie's life is not a revolving banquet of four-star cuisine. The petite chef admits to eating her fair share of "junk" - often opting for orangey-cheesey-nachoey things. On a healthier note, pretzels are never far from her reach; and she further satisfies savory/salty cravings with pickles and olives. To round out her diet, she tries to consume at least a small amount of chocolate each day.
Formal training aside, Jamie feels her cooking style has simply evolved: a compilation of lessons learned from all the chefs with whom she has trained over the years, as well as all the food she has eaten in various restaurants. To conclude our conversation, I threw out a few "quick fire" questions:
Beer or wine? Wine. Most definitely.
If you weren't a chef, what would you be? A food writer.
If they made a movie of your life, who would get the starring role? This one required some thought. A BIG fan of Madonna, she toyed with that idea for a few seconds; then mused over the fact she's often told she resembles a blonde Angelina Jolie. But after careful consideration (and probably the inability to visualize either one of those divas in a chef's jacket), Drew Barrymore won the casting call.
It was time for Jamie to oversee dinner prep at the restaurant, but I couldn't resist asking one more bit of Top Chef trivia: Just how authentic are those angst-ridden sessions in the storage room, with pensive chefs perched uncomfortably on folding chairs as they await a decision? She told me the judges do indeed deliberate in "real time", sometimes leaving the anxious contestants captive in that stuffy room - amidst the stacked cases of bottled water and plastic wrap - for as long as 4 hours.
When asked if there is anything she'd like to retire from the Absinthe menu for a while, without a moment's hesitation she responded "Scallops!" It seems Chef Fabio's "Top Scallop" remark haunts her to this day, but restaurant patrons still want to taste those perfectly seared scallops that won her national attention.