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Catching Up With Chad White On The Cusp of Top Chef California

The show's two-night premiere airs December 2 & 3.

Photo: Marie Tahan Daniels
Photo: Marie Tahan Daniels

San Diego's about to have a starring role on 'Top Chef'. After we broke the news about our fair city being one of the stops on a 'Top Chef' California road trip for the show's 13th season, the Eater tipline flooded with spoilers about the San Diego-centric episode, which will reportedly include a guest judge appearance by Bracero's Javier Plascencia and a craft beer cooking challenge filmed at Juniper & Ivy, home to series regular Richard Blais. The most exciting speculation regarded a local chef's inclusion among the competitors, with all fingers pointing to Chad White; the rumor was confirmed last month, when the show officially announced the new cast and its premiere date.

White, who has spent many years in San Diego in various kitchens, including Counterpoint and the since-shuttered Roseville and Sea Rocket Bistro, also helped to open the East Village's Comun Taqueria, launch La Justina in Tijuana and create the concept for Westfield UTC's Craft Pizza Company. The Washington-born chef, who is cooking at a special San Diego Bay Wine and Food Festival dinner this Monday, November 16 at Bracero with host Javier Plascencia and Chicago legend Rick Bayless, earned Eater's Chef of the Year nod in 2014 and has become known for his brand of Baja-inspired cuisine; he recently answered some questions about his upcoming 'Top Chef' appearance without getting too spoiler-y.

Q: How did you end up on the show this season? Had you applied before?

A: I've had people say I should go on the show since I was at Roseville. I remember watching it and seeing some chefs on the show who were extremely talented, but also some individuals who couldn't even make the simplest of things, and I would sit on my couch — I'm sure, just like tons of other chefs— and think, that's so easy, it's all a fake drama reality show. When I got a phone call from 'Top Chef', I thought, how would I stack up against competition from the rest of the county? And there really needs to be more of a magnifying glass on San Diego; there are so many talented chefs here. If I wanted to get more recognition for myself and for the city, I was going to have to compete. So I said yes.

Q: What did you think when you found out it was going be filmed in California?

A: When I found out it was only in California, I was actually a little bummed because it meant that we would be using ingredients that I was already familiar with. The thing I really love about cooking is going to another area and seeing ingredients that I've never used before and being challenged to cook in a different style — I get off on that. So I was hoping we'd go to another state or a foreign country.

Q: Did you feel like you might have an advantage?

A: Everything is scary about this show and everyone on my season was equally talented. In your regular life, when you have an event, you have time to write out a menu, research and do a little R&D; in this competition, there's none of that, it's just ready, set, go. It really takes you out of your comfort zone and takes away any home field advantage you thought you had. The show does such a good job of hiding information from you because they want everything to be a surprise; it's terrifying because you don't know what's coming.

Q: What came to mind when you heard it would include San Diego?

A: We had quite a bit of time to reflect and think about what could come next and what the challenges would be. I thought there might be something at Catalina Offshore or big standout areas like La Jolla or Coronado. I thought we might cross to Tijuana. Or that maybe Brian Malarkey would be a judge. But it's all a guessing game, you just don't know what's going to happen. And, I really can't say if I will actually be on the San Diego episode.