Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Reality Check With ... Sandee Birdsong (Bravo's "Top Chef")

A Georgia native, Sandee Birdsong specializes in southern soul food. Her signature dish is grilled hamachi collar with southern collard greens and soy sherry reduction with jalapeƱo corn bread. Strong and independent, she is not a pushover. Sandee is aware that everyone will underestimate her, but she is adamant that while her opponents are playing it safe, she will work harder because she doesn't know any other way. She lives by the motto, "Dream as if you'll live forever; live as if you'll die today." Last week, viewers as well her fellow competitors were shocked that she was the 2nd chef eliminated on "Top Chef". Sandee steps out of the kitchen to chat with RealityCheckByGina about what went wrong.

RC: You have not been a chef very long. What made you decide to try it?
Sandee: Well, you know, the whole cheesy thing: passion, food, all that, has made me want to do something I loved instead of something that just made me money. I had the priviledge of taking a year off from work to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I didn’t want to keep doing something I didn’t have a lot of passion for. I went to Restaurant in Miami, knocked on the door, and asked if I could work there. The chef put me on the line in between 2 guys. Two weeks later, I became kitchen manager. Two months later, the owner of Tantra came in, gave the chef the boot, and I've been there ever since.

RC: What were you doing before becoming a chef?
Sandee: I own a magazine, called She magazine (a lesbian publication). I do a lot of promotion & events. I’ve owned some websites, been all over the board, anything that came my way. I went to college for business management & jumped on any money-making scheme out there.

RC: There are lots of cooking shows out there. What drew you to Top Chef?
Sandee: Top Chef seems to be the most respected show, it’s not about screaming at somebody in the kitchen. They really concentrate on the food & not so much on the drama. Over all as a reality show, Top Chef seems to be the one to work into your career. You get to meet a lot of wonderful chefs & work with a lot of wonderful food.

RC: You got some flack in quickfire challenge for putting a flower in your mohito. What do you have to say to that?
Sandee: One guy in the top 3 had a seed in his salad yet the judge took the flower out of my drink. I guess you like seeds in your salad but not flowers in your drink! One girl had food that wasn’t even citrus, one girl had shells on the plate, so when things like that happen, you start questioning the judges’ abilities.

RC: Do you always agree with the feedback you're given by the judges?
Sandee: Never! The episode where I was told to pack my knives & leave was the most shocking episode I’ve ever seen on Top Chef. I wondered if I had missed something but now that the show has aired & everyone (friends, family, people on the street) says how shocked they are, I don’t agree with all the judges’ decisions.

RC: What went wrong for you in the barbecue elimination challenge?
Sandee: The judges said my dish was gourmet but not barbecue enough. To determine what made it barbecue, I really wasn’t on board with that. I was like, “What? Do you just want barbecue sauce?” The top 3 didn’t have barbecue sauce. Then, the judges turned it into, “Well it just wasn’t barbecue”. Howie’s dish wasn’t gourmet or barbecue & Joey made a chicken leg which is not gourmet. It’s weird because you wonder how you missed the mark since it doesn’t make sense. But it is what it is, I went out with people loving me.

RC: What did you think of all the drama? That’s not something that happens too often.
Sandee: The drama that happened between Joey & Howie started the previous episode where Howie did not complete his dish. He was allowed to stay when he did not complete his plate and another guy was sent home. The other contestants thought, “Even though Clay was not up to standards, Howie did not finish that challenge & Howie should have gone home.” We went to this next challenge & Howie’s pork was way dry – it looks like a 2 year old had cut it with a butter knife. Nobody ate it, literally, his pork was almost in the same condition as when it started. For him to get up there in the bottom again & be allowed to stay just ripped everybody the wrong way. Obviously, Joey came out & said what he felt but it was warranted. We all thought it, Joey just said it.

RC: Your fellow competitors were surprised you were sent home. That had to make you feel good.
Sandee: It made me feel amazing. We're at the judges’ table & we turn to walk out & as I walk down the hall, I hear them chanting my name because they know we’re coming. As we get into the room, they stand up & yell, “Yeah!” & I had to tell them no. I had had a great day, everyone loved my food at the event. I had to take food off other people’s tables because I had served all of mine.

RC: Where can we find you cooking these days?
Sandee: I’m the chef as Tantra restaurant in South Beach, Miami. I’m going to start doing events, promotions, catering, and just having fun.

A new episode of Top Chef airs tonight on Bravo at 10pm EST

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