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Kitchen Karma

'Top Chef' casualty Heather Terhune insists 'I am not a bully.'

4:20 PM, Dec 22, 2011 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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For the fans of Top Chef: Texas who were hoping for a long, drawn-out struggle between outspoken chef Heather Terhune and Beverly Kim, last night's episode was disappointing. The Chicago chef's "braised" beef, a tribute to her mother, was judged the worst dish of the lot. Guest judge Patti LaBelle speculated that it came from Big Foot. On the other hand, fans who vilified Miss Terhune took great pleasure in seeing her pack her knives. Not that she cares what people on Facebook or Twitter are saying. But with regard to what her fellow chefs said behind her back, Heather calls the comments "hurtful" and "cowardly."

Kitchen Karma

On the phone earlier this afternoon, Heather insisted "I am not a bully. I am upfront, forthright, honest, and spoke the truth." Watching the edited version of events, however, left Heather hurt. "What's painful is what the other chefs were saying behind my back. It's cowardly." But "I wouldn't take back anything I said or did. I have zero regrets." What the chefs were saying was that Heather was a bully and after she criticized Beverly Kim in front of the judges on a previous episode, she had it coming.

But Heather also reminded me how these reality shows depend on a tension that did not seem as apparent to her during the taping. "If that's the way it's spun, that's the way it's spun." She doesn't see herself as a polarizing figure either—"People forget it's a competition. It doesn't have to be all sunshine and rainbows." No, it doesn't.

As for the judges' decision, Heather fully accepts it. Once she took her beef out to plate, she knew she was in trouble. Head judge Tom Colicchio explains on his blog that "Heather’s [dish] was so bad because she had the wrong cut of meat. You want to braise cuts like shoulders, shanks and bellies, because they have a lot of collagen and connecting tissue that breaks down as it’s braised, creating a rich dish. You don’t want to braise cuts of meat like strip steak or rib eye or tenderloin. Heather could have braised that piece of meat for three days, and it would never have worked. As with Grayson, Heather needed to apply her creativity as a chef to the situation she faced: if she was inspired by her mom’s Beef Stroganoff, she could either have bought the right meat or decided to do a take-off on the Stroganoff using that beef and applying in a new way the flavors found in a Stroganoff, but she didn’t do either, and so what she did do wound up dried out and terrible."

For the record, Heather said she never intended to braise that cut of beef. "I should have bought a backup filet," she regrets. (Isn't that everyone's regret?)

On a related note, Heather is not a fan of the "Last Chance Kitchen" concept and for good reason—she doesn't think it fair for someone to compete in weekly cookoffs with the chance of making it to the finals without experiencing the grueling challenges the rest of the contestants face each episode.

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