Ilan Hall Takes The Knife To Food TV, His Boys At Top Chef Included

If you didn't fall asleep in the middle of Sunday's sluggish Mad Men premiere (Don, NO!), you might have caught a commercial for Knife Fight, a new cooking competition show created by Ilan Hall, who is best known for wining Season 2 of Top Chef. The commercial makes it look nothing like a cable cooking show. First, the show appears to be filmed in an actual commercial kitchen, not some cooking stadium or domed arena. Competitors are wearing real clothes, not aprons with oversized logos.

Second, the crowd — made up of all sorts of L.A. hotness — appears to be having a legitimately good time. Look, there's Drew Barymore! She's standing on a chair cursing. (She's one of the show's producers.)

Thirdly, speaking of Drew, there are real celebrities here like Elijah Wood, Bijou Phillips and Erika Christensen. As Hall points out, the high-profile judges were picked because they are fans of his four-year-old downtown L.A. restaurant The Gorbals, which blends the chef's Scottish and Jewish heritage and looks like a pretty fun place to hang out. It's where the show is filmed, in fact. Knife Fight debuts on April 23rd with chefs competiting not for an over-sized check or spiffy corporate-sponsored blender, but a shitty kitchen knife. It's symbolic. The real prize is bragging rights. We talked to Hall about his new show.

You like doing TV, right?

I don't have a problem doing it, but it was never my intention. We were already doing this, but on a smaller scale. We would have parties and have cooks go against each other, just to mess around. We had no ulterior motive other than to have a good time.

Articulate how this show is different from other shows on TV...

I watch a lot of stuff on the web because there is some great content. There are a lot of great shows that are entertaining and informative, but I think people are scared to put some things on broadcast TV and Esquire Network wasn't. They were really excited about this from day one and wanted it to feel different and stand out and make a statement.

What is the nitty gritty of Knife Fight? Do you have some episodes in the can?

We are doing 10 episodes, and then we will see.

Talk about some of the chefs competing...

The chefs competing are all based in L.A., with a couple sprinkled [in from] around Southern California – one in La Jolla and one in Paso Robles.

Name some names...

Brendan Collins is the chef at Waterloo & City and David Feau, who was at The Royce, has worked through the whole Michelin star system in France and has an incredible pedigree. Also, Octavio Becerra, who is a legend of the Los Angeles restaurant scene, started Patina Group and has had Palate and is opening up another restaurant. Ricardo Zerate, who is the owner of Mo-Chica. We have 40 chefs compete. It's pretty insane.

I love that your network isn't forcing you to put like Jonathan Waxman on there. Nothing against him, but you have a clear vision in terms of the talent. Los Angeles. Young. Cool. It works.

The most important thing is that I want the matches to be as fair as possible. I work really hard to make that happen, between either people that I know or from recommendations of friends of mine whose opinions I really trust.

And Action Bronson was one of the judges?

No, I'm friendly with Action, but we just couldn't coordinate with him to be out here. He's definitely going to be part of it in the future... I hope.

But you've got Elijah Wood though, for sure? That dude is into food it seems.

Yeah, he's on it. Erika Christensen is a judge. In terms of familiar faces, also Brett Gurewitz — the founder of Bad Religion and Epitaph Records. All the famous people who are involved are in it because they are incredibly passionate about food and I have some sort of friendly connection with them, like if they're regulars at The Gorbals — Elijah and Erika are. Then there are people whose career is food — food writers, food bloggers, chefs.

Who are a few people you want on the show?

Wow, that's a good question. I would love to see Wolfgang [Puck] because he's a humungous L.A. name. I'd love to see Wolfgang go against Nobu Matsuhisa — that would be one of my favorites. Then again, I'd also like to see Wolfgang Puck go against someone who was a sous-chef of his 10 years ago.

What is your next six months looking like? 

We did a lot of consulting the past year. This year, I'm reinvesting my time in the restaurant, but we are planning on opening something. I might even...New York, maybe? I don't know, I don't know. Let's see.

I like you throwing out the carrot. New York?

Maybe! I don't know and nothing is definite. It would be great and it is my dream to come back — all my family is there and most of the friends I grew up with. I love L.A., but New York is the big one for chefs. A lot of people ask why I would go back to New York and say it's so saturated with restaurants, but it's just that thing...

I was talking to Jon Shook about this last week — you can't deny the power of New York as a chef/owner.

Los Angeles is a completely different place now than it was five years ago, but New York really is the pinnacle and it makes you have to be the best that you can, all the time. The second that you slack off for a moment, people notice and everybody knows and you're done. It's the ultimate challenge for a chef.

This Food Republic Interview is presented by our friends at Ribera Wines

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