After nearly three seasons of doling out constructive critiques and eliminations on dozens of chefs, the Cutthroat Kitchen judges took their turns in the contest and battled each other in an epic three rounds of competition. Antonia Lofaso, Geoffrey Zakarian, Jet Tila and Simon Majumdar faced the same kind of evilicious sabotages that host Alton Brown is notorious for auctioning off to other contestants, but the rivalries among the judges were fiercer, as each wanted to claim Cutthroat glory once and for all.
If you haven’t watched the episode yet, don’t read any further because FN Dish is about to break down the rounds and reveal the winner.
After Simon fell in Round 1 on account of poor pantry shopping, the competition turned into a three-way fight as Antonia, Geoffrey and Jet advanced to take on Round 2’s meatball sub test. Geoffrey won two sabotages and after gifting them both to Jet, it was no surprise that the latter couldn’t recover; his too-soggy bread was no match for Geoffrey’s and Antonia’s plates, and they ultimately faced off in a head-to-head cook-off featuring fruit tart. With all of her money left to spend, Antonia bought a Round 3 sabotage for $3,000 that would force Geoffrey to source all of his ingredients from a makeshift fruit tree — the obstacle being that it was studded with inferior goods — while she remained sabotage-free for the entire test. In the end, Antonia’s tart proved to be well-balanced, and she scored the win and was able to donate $22,000 to charity.
Read on below to hear from Antonia in an exclusive interview, and learn all about her thoughts on the battle and how this experience will impact her judging of future Cutthroat Kitchen episodes.
You said several times that you’re used to being “the bridesmaid and never the bride.” What does it mean to you to finally win?
Antonia Lofaso: It’s just fun and exciting because I’ve done cooking competition shows before and I usually get right up to the end, and I never really win anything. Even though we’re playing for charity, chefs — we’re all very highly competitive, so a win is a win. … I’m just excited to finally be the one where my name is actually called.
Going into the competition, who did you imagine to be your biggest threat?
AL: It’s strange because I know from past experience that you can never really put a title on anyone because it could be anyone. Even though Simon is more of, like, a blogger, food writer, I didn’t discount him because he’s just so well-trained, and so I just didn’t know what he could actually do. Of course Geoffrey Zakarian is an Iron Chef, but I just feel like the win can come from anywhere, especially in Cutthroat Kitchen because we’re just given so many strange obstacles. … I was just kind of nervous to compete and just kind of hoping for the best outcome.
What was your strategy for the contest? Did you want to bid often and win, to stay under the radar, or was it more important to try to keep your money than escape a sabotage?
AL: I learned very quickly that the bidding wars that go on between people really don’t mean anything; it’s not like I’m really out to get this person or whatever. I think they just start to happen. My strategy was just kind of stay out of it. It was, like, me and three guys, and the three guys tend to get very ego-driven by it. … I just found if I stayed out of it, I was kind of left alone. … You could tell [that] if the bidding was going between two people that whoever won that bid was going to give it to the other person because you’re automatically thinking when you’re bidding against a person, you’re bidding it for your own salvation kind of a thing. I was kind of, like, very confident in the fact that if someone outbid someone else that they weren’t going to give me the sabotage; it was going to go to that person that they beat in the bid.
In the final round, you prepared your fruit tart under no sabotage, something that rarely happens on Cutthroat Kitchen. What was that kind of freedom like after two rounds of dealing with challenges?
AL: It was actually very relaxing; I have to be honest. I was, like, at this point, the only thing that could be a sabotage is if I don’t get everything I need. On Cutthroat Kitchen, not only are you worried about people sabotaging you, but at the same time, you could go in and sabotage yourself without even getting the ingredients that you need to make certain things. I knew going into the third round that I had the most amount of money and that I could basically out-bid him on anything, so I wasn’t worried about that. I was more concerned with the shop and making sure that I had everything that I needed.
How has your conception of the game and what it requires of the chefs changed since you competed?
AL: I’ve always had so much respect for the chefs that go on that show because it’s very, very difficult. It’s so much more about your mindset than it is even about what’s in front of you because if you’re just that person that’s like: “I can make this happen. I may have come out of the pantry with a pair of shoelaces and a sock, but you know what? I’m going to make a dish, and it’s going to be delicious.” So I feel like it’s so much more about the person’s perseverance and just natural ability to make something out of nothing that really I think surprises me more than anything. Because I think during the very first challenge, when I had my entire basket taken away from me and I was put in Geoffrey Zakarian’s little kitchen with all of his ingredients, I literally walked out of there — I didn’t think I was going to get past the first round. I was like, “I’m never going to be able to make a taquito with mascarpone cheese and on omelet, and I’m going to go home.”
Has this experience changed the way you’ll judge future competitors?
AL: No, definitely not. … I think I might judge a little harder because I feel like there are times when you can tell when people kind of give up. And I feel like if I see that, or if that comes forward in their dish, I feel like that’s going to be more of the callout. It’s not easy, but now that I know it can be done, I feel like I’m going to expect more from people.
What one piece of advice would you give to all contestants?
AL: Make sure that when you shop, you shop quickly, efficiently and put anything that can fit into that basket. It’s all about the basket. The more you have in that basket, the more you have to work with at the end of the day — unless you get, like, a ridiculous sabotage where everything gets taken away from you. And then I don’t know.
Browse insider photos to relive the most-memorable moments from the judges’ battle.
- From Kitchen Stadium to the Gauntlet: Alton Brown Returns to the World of Iron Chef, and We’ve Got the Scoop
- The Journey to the Gauntlet: Chatting with Challenger Stephanie Izard from Iron Chef Gauntlet
- The Journey to the Gauntlet: Chatting with Challenger Shota Nakajima from Iron Chef Gauntlet
- The Journey to the Gauntlet: Chatting with Challenger Sarah Grueneberg from Iron Chef Gauntlet