The first time Dallas chef John Tesar appeared on Top Chef, "the whole thing never went down the way I wanted it to go down," he says of the Bravo TV show that aired from late 2012 to early 2013.
Tesar was eliminated in the ninth episode of Season 10 after making an ill-received -- and "ill-conceived," Tesar assents -- risotto. That was enough to send the chef back to Dallas: "I found myself in a hallway, with a cameraman, packing my knives. It was terrible," he says.
Maybe he's a glutton for punishment, but Tesar is back on Top Chef. The premiere episode on Dec. 1 showed him cooking alongside seven returning chefs and eight rookies on Season 14 in Charleston, South Carolina.
As the chef-owner of a meat-centric restaurant Knife and as one of Dallas' most outspoken restaurateurs, Tesar doesn't seem like the type to want to talk about his previous failed attempt to win Top Chef. But in an interview with GuideLive, Tesar was able to sum up Season 10 in one word:
That might be a theme, because the challenges on Top Chef have the tendency to induce panic in even the most self-assured chefs. In the very first episode of Season 14, Tesar found himself in a "horrifying" place, in danger of being eliminated. The show pitted the rookies against each other and the veterans against each other in two cookoffs. Tesar's kimchee shrimp and grits was the judges' least favorite in his group. He was asked to cook against rookie Florida chef Gerald Sombright, and only one man could win.
"You've got to be kidding me, man," Tesar says in the premiere episode.
He's 58 years old at the time of filming -- 59 now. As the oldest contestant on Top Chef, he calls himself a "dying breed":
"A lot of people my age have either burnt out or faded away. Or, let's face it, they're either Emeril or Bobby Flay," he says on premiere. "For me, winning Top Chef -- I wouldn't call it redemption. I'd just call it validation."
So being in the bottom two? Not great.
"I didn't sleep that night. I was terrified," Tesar says.
"There's not a person on that show that's not terrified of being the first one to go home."
Plus, Tesar knows he's a controversial figure. "John Tesar could go home in the first episode! I bet the haters would love that," he told GuideLive.
But a kindler, gentler Tesar than the one we saw in Season 10 didn't taunt his opponent in the Season 14 premiere. He put his head down and shucked oysters for that "sudden death quickfire" cooking challenge. He made oyster stew with oyster liquor and black truffles that was tastier than Sombright's roasted oysters with Thai-style mignonette, said judges Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons and Graham Elliot and host Padma Lakshmi.
SPOILER ALERT: Tesar lived to cook another day on Top Chef.
"You're not rid of me yet," Tesar taunts.
Now he's one of 15 left on Top Chef, and he's surrounded by top talent, including Shirley Chung, Brooke Williamson and Sheldon Simeon, all returning chefs who made it to the finale in their respective Top Chef seasons. And Casey Thompson, former Dallas and Fort Worth chef, makes her THIRD return to Top Chef after making it to the finale in Season 3 and then appearing again in Season 8 All-Stars.
The rookies are worth watching out for, too, including Jim Smith, the executive chef for the state of Alabama and a contestant on the show. He's "one charming, sneaky little sunofagun," Tesar says.
Will Tesar prove to be the "matured" chef he claims to be -- far removed from the self-described "rage-aholic" we once knew? Better keep watching.