Miami Chef Pablo Lamon Competes on Season 16 of Top Chef
Bravo’s “Top Chef” heads to the state of Kentucky for season 16, kicking off with two weeks of supersized premieres beginning Thursday, December 6 at 9:00 pm. This season, 15 new talented chefs from cities big and small across the U.S. will compete for the sought-after title amid the unique culinary scenes in Louisville, Lexington and Lake Cumberland, before heading abroad for an epic finale showdown in Macau, China.
One of the chefs is from our own backyard. Chef Pablo Lamon is the Chef de Cuisine at 27 Restaurant at The Freehand on Miami Beach.
Pablo grew up in Buenos Aires, Argentina and recognized his passion for cooking at a young age. When Pablo was 22, he was in a motorcycle accident that left him unable to walk for one year. Experiencing such pain and hardship early in his life, Pablo was able to realize his true strength. He began his culinary career working at the Award Winning Palacio Duhau Park Hyatt Buenos Aires. At 23 years old, he left Argentina to travel the world and work in the kitchens on luxury cruises and yachts, cooking for rock stars, politicians and celebrities. Since settling in Miami, he has worked for Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Top Chef winner, Jeremy Ford.
Just a few days before the premiere of season 16, I got the chance to sit with Chef Pablo to chat about how he started cooking and what it was like to film the show.
How did you get your start in the culinary world?
I’m from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I never grew up being curious about cooking as a kid, or cooking with my grandma like so many other chefs. But my first memory of cooking is when I started secondary school. I was 13 and for lunch I was by myself, so my mom would always leave me something to reheat in the microwave to feed myself. Eventually I started to find just pasta and tomato sauce boring, so I would grab and onion or bacon to cook and add to it to make it tastier. I guess it evolved from cooking to make it taste better, to cooking to make it fun. That was the beginning for me. That’s the first time I remember really cooking. It turned into a game, because it was fun to make something better. And you get to eat the result! Then through school, I got to do a thing called Partner For A Day where I got to spend the entire day with a chef. At 16 I went to a cooking school and spent a day with the chef. I went to classes about food and wine and I was blown away. It was the most exciting thing. I graduated the next year and was immediately ready for cooking school. I just knew that’s what I wanted to do.
What influences your cooking style?
In Argentina we use a lot of open fire and many ancient cooking techniques — when it comes to hanging piece of fruit or animals in a certain way or in specific angles. You learn how to use the wind and the sun to your advantage and I find that to be so beautiful. It gets you so close to the Earth. If I had to pick a chef Francis Mallmann. He’s a huge influence in all of those methods. But then on the other hand I’ve always loved the chemistry of food. I’m really passionate about reactions and why things happen when one element touches another one. I think it’s a big part of how you learn to cook and manipulate things on a molecular level. So I really love molecular gastronomy and techniques that have to do with understand exactly the best way to go about things. I really like to utilize both ends of the spectrum from very traditional methods to the most modern ones.
Was filming Top Chef your first time working on TV?
On TV yes, but it wasn’t my first competition. I competed in San Pellegrino Young Chef. It’s a one day thing and I made it to the finals. But cooking on TV is pretty stressful. It’s not as hard as you think, but it’s not as easy as you think. You just get used to it. At some point, you just keep talking and keep cooking and forget the cameras are there. You’re always aware that someone is watching. It feels like when you’re working with your boss over your shoulder. You need to be extra careful about your station being clean and how you’re behaving. There’s always an awareness, and the entire time I kept thinking the whole country and even the entire world is watching. There’s a microphone on you at all times, so you have to watch what you say too!
What made you decide to be on Top Chef?
I’m always down for any activity that will help me grow. I’m all about growing in my career and learning. The hardest experiences are the ones that teach you more and help you learn more. That’s one of the main reasons why I decided to leave my country. I wanted to challenge myself and grow from it. I had been applying to be on Top Chef because I felt like it was the only competition that was a true competition, not just a show. Of course there’s a reality element to it, but it’s the most well respected competition on TV.
What was it like working with the judges?
All of the judges were very well known and respected chefs that I’ve been studying for years and years. I’ve been a huge fan of Eric Ripert since I was 18 years old and suddenly I was there with him. Anything they say is a huge learning moment. Even if I didn’t agree many times, because sometimes something is going to be too acidic for one person, but for other it’s not. It’s just a matter of taking in what they say and being open minded. It’s such a cool feeling to have some of the best chefs in the world tasting your food. You could definitely tell that they knew exactly what they were doing. Sometimes they would make comments and you would be like wow they really knew and they picked up on that ingredient or that technique. They know what they are looking for as they taste the food. It’s a really validating experience, because they don’t give any compliments away for free. When you get good feedback, it’s a really fulfilling moment.
What advice do you have for chefs just starting out?
Be patient. When you work as a cook, you don’t make good money and you work long hours. It’s not as exciting, but when you actually get to start growing in your career and becoming more creative and getting to play with your food — you’ll feel it. So just be patient and work hard and you’ll get there.