In November 2018, Netflix released all 10 episodes of its first global cooking competition show, The Final Table, which starred 24 chefs from around the world, including two with strong roots in Los Angeles. One was former Mexicali Taco chef Esdras Ochoa, who was actually representing Hong Kong with his new restaurant 11 Westside. The second was Timothy Hollingsworth, the former French Laundry chef de cuisine and current owner pf Otium restaurant in Downtown Los Angeles. Hollingsworth also opened two eateries last year, CJ Boyd’s fried chicken and the more expansive sports lounge Freeplay at the Banc of California Stadium. (Warning: there are spoilers ahead)
Eater sits down with Hollingsworth, who competed throughout the Netflix show and went on to win the competition during an intense final episode that pitted Hollingsworth with his own competition partner Darren Maclean, as well as with two accomplished Australian chefs Mark Best and Shane Osborn.
On the yellowtail dish that helped him win the competition: After winning the show, we put the yellowtail dish back on the menu at Otium. We’ve had been selling around 20 a night before we took it off the menu, but now we’re preparing anywhere between 50 and 60 orders of the signature yellowtail dish.
On the grueling filming schedule of The Final Table: Each episode took three days to film, including interviews.
On what it felt like to be on the show initially: At first you’re thankful that you’re even on the show. But then, especially since I competed for the Bocuse d’Or, I knew I had to win. Because I had to take time away from my family and also the restaurants, my mentality was to win.
On the quality of the other competitors on the finale: These guys were very qualified chefs. They were a little older and had more experience. My partner and I knew we were going up against a serious challenge.
On the toughest aspect of the entire competition: The hardest part was trying to figure out who you were cooking for. It was a bit of a psychological journey to figure out what each judge was looking for. Basically, the criteria wasn’t consistent for each dish we cooked. When I competed for the Bocuse d’Or, you had to prepare food for so many different chefs and tastes. In the end, I stuck to French fundamentals. Sometimes the judges were so vague on what they wanted from us that we weren’t sure whether we had the flexibility to interpret our own dishes. I think that’s what made the competition difficult.
On why the show seemed to have more white male competitors: I’m almost 40. Mark and Shane are almost 50, while Darren is in his 30s. We all grew up in the kitchen, and it was a male-dominated world when we started. Things are changing now in terms of diversity, and you’ll see the results of that in 20 years with more diversity among chefs and restaurants. I do think that Netflix could have done a better job of picking a diverse cast. This was their first season and I’m sure they’re going to make changes.
On what it feels like to win The Final Table: The whole purpose of getting on the show was the marketing value that Netflix has. I knew it was going to be a huge accolade to win. I didn’t want to perform badly and have that reflect on Otium. Unfortunately, doing shows like this is a necessary evil in today’s media landscape. Otium is a 230 seat restaurant, so you’re hoping that competing would help it stand out, especially with so many new restaurants opening.
On how Hollingsworth would change The Final Table for the second season: I think it would make it more challenging to pick a wider mix of countries. I think it would be good to let chefs get creative with dishes instead of having them recreate something specific. Or at least specify whether chefs should get totally creative, or stick to the exact traditional recipe of dishes, which I don’t think is as interesting.
Even though there was no cash prize, what else do you want to take away from winning the competition? I definitely want to be involved with more TV projects. I would like to expand from just being a chef to incorporating more lifestyle brands and marketing. Especially with opening Otium, CJ Boyd’s, and Freeplay, I had the opportunity to get involved with design. I would love to collaborate more on products, clothing, fashion, shoes, and other outlets.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Source: Eater LA – All