We caught up with the seven-year Las Vegas resident after her younger son, Michael, bested brother Bryan to win Top Chef: Las Vegas.
How strange was it knowing your sons were in Las Vegas for weeks, but not being able to see or talk to them?
It was really hard—you know your kids are out there participating in something like that, and you have to go to work every day. I wanted to know what was going on with them, that they were okay, all the mom stuff. My husband kept saying, “Let’s drive around and try to find them.” But we’d just kind of look out and wave and go, “Good morning, boys.” We knew they were out there somewhere.
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Were you surprised at how competitive they acted toward one another on the show?
I don’t think it’s any different than with any same-sex siblings. I don’t think it’s as much a competition between them as them driving each other to do better. They’re actually very, very close, but unfortunately, on television, you don’t get to see all of it. But they talk every day. My biggest fear was that the show would drive a wedge between them, and it hasn’t.
Michael said some things on the show that weren’t very well-received by fans. Tough to watch?
It seems that every season, there happens to be one chef-testant that’s not quite liked by everyone, and unfortunately it happened to be Michael this time. I would find myself calling him the day after watching, saying, “You did not say that.” And he would say, “No, my entire comment was ...” I don’t think Michael would go out of his way to hurt anyone. I saw Michael, Bryan and [third-place finisher] Kevin [Gillespie] together when I was there for the finale, and they got along great. They were pulling jokes on the production crew.
Can you give an example?
The last morning, the three of them tied sheets together and threw them over the balcony. And then these three men who were about to cook the biggest meal of their lives hid in the closet. So when the production crew came in, they thought they’d escaped.
Did you try to avoid reading what viewers were saying about Michael?
I read it, and it was really difficult. I just kept in mind that, at the end of the day, this is not a popularity contest. And I know my son and what kind of person he is. Some of his personality wasn’t portrayed; his humor wasn’t portrayed. Mike is very quick-witted—whatever he’s gotta say or do in the moment to maybe ease the situation, he just throws it right out atcha. Bryan takes everything in; he processes it and actually plays everything out before he reacts.
When you appeared on the finale and saw Michael and Bryan among the three finalists, what was your reaction?
It was completely overwhelming. I knew I would possibly be placed in the toughest position any mother could be—thrilled for the winner and consoling the one who didn’t win.
You ended up with that exact scenario. How rough was it?
Truthfully, I just wanted to run out of that room. Mike turned to me, and he was crying, so I knew he had won. Michael doesn’t show emotion like that, so I knew. And I knew Bryan was extremely disappointed, and it just breaks your heart to have to see your other child like that. It’s like one wins a trophy at the baseball game and the other falls down and skins his knee. You pick him up and put a Band-Aid on it and hope it gets better. And it has. They’re both doing well; they’re together now, and they’re moving forward. I think the show taught them that they could actually be in the same kitchen together. So I think it helped them grow closer professionally.
Your sons’ food isn’t the sort of stuff you cooked when they were kids. Do you like eating their food?
They can serve some things that I would not normally go to a restaurant and order—sweetbreads and things—but I taste them, and they’re great. I’ve been around both of their restaurants, and the food at both is outstanding—it’s always a new experience. When they were growing up, it was always, “If you won’t try it, how do you know you won’t like it?” And now they use that on me.
As a Las Vegan, how do you think the city was represented on the show?
A lot of people outside Vegas think we all live on the Strip, and it’s all slot machines and dancing girls. Top Chef portrayed Vegas in a different light—they focused on the high-quality restaurants and the caliber of chefs that Vegas has attracted: Hubert Keller, Joel Robuchon, the restaurants at the Wynn and the Bellagio … You can go from restaurant to restaurant and experience the finest dining the world has to offer.