Interview: Top Chef’s Eddie Konrad

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SPR got him on the phone to talk to him about being on Top Chef, the South Philly food scene and growing up in Port Richmond.

After Philadelphian Nick Elmi was crowned Top Chef in Season 11 of the Bravo TV series, the station has selected two more Philadelphians to be on its 16th season of the show. One of those is Natalie Maronski, a native of Northern Virginia who moved to Philadelphia to pursue a degree at Drexel University. The other is Eddie Konrad. Konrad is a Port Richmond-raised chef who currently serves as the sous chef at South Philly-based American/French restaurant Laurel — the same restaurant that employs Elmi. After bouncing back between Philly and Providence, Rhode Island and New York throughout his life, Konrad is currently fixated in the house he bought in South Philly.

He recently talked to SPR about being on Top Chef, the South Philly food scene and growing up in Port Richmond.

What’s it like to be on the show?

It’s pretty surreal, you know? It starts out like you have this secret nobody knows, and then you see [the show] and you see it through somebody else’s eyes, basically. Because a lot of the stuff you see isn’t like how you remembered it, obviously. So it’s just really surreal. It’s pretty weird.

When did you actually do the filming?

I can’t remember the exact dates to be honest with you, but it was like it was towards the end of May, pretty much all of June and most of July. Like six weeks or something like that.

So, how long did you keep this a secret? Could you tell your family?

Well, the only people I can really tell was my wife and like, you know, my parents and stuff like that. Whoever signed non-disclosure I could tell what happened, but couldn’t say much outside of that. So you just kind of keep it to yourself and I’m pretty good at keeping secrets so that’s fine! It was pretty easy. It was just hard trying to explain to people why you just disappear. That was the hardest part trying to come up with a lie.

Right, right, because I’m sure I mean your co-workers had to have noticed you were gone. Right?

Well, I just told them I was going to work in France to you know, better myself or something. I don’t know. I just got to say something.

And they bought it?

They were like “that’s in tune with something you would do” so, yeah, OK. That makes sense.

Nice. So, how did you how did you get on the show in the first place? Did you like apply or something?

Well, [my coworker] Nick [Elmi] was on the show and then a couple of years ago he mentioned to me ‘hey, would you ever be interested?’ Because you know, they come to Philly and the casting directors look for people in Philly every year. I did try out once before a couple of years ago — right before my son [Roman] was born — and I was kind of willy nilly about it. I was like, I don’t really know if I want to do it because I don’t want to miss him being born or anything or any of that. So I just let it go. I didn’t get get picked, but I wasn’t going to do it anyway. And then this year for the next show they seemed a lot more interested and I talked to them and just kind of played with the idea of it. And then my wife was like ‘you should do it. You should totally do it. Roman’s 2 now so you’re not going to miss the huge milestones.’ I didn’t miss [Roman] walking or talking now this point. So I went for it.

Where’d your passion for food come from?

You know, I don’t really know. Some people say it’s in your blood I guess but I mean, I don’t know how much truth there is to it, you know? But my great-grandfather was a chef, and my family always liked good food, but I didn’t grow up in like a household that was making dinners every Sunday and stuff, but for the major holidays — half my family’s pretty Polish so Easter is a big deal and Christmas is a big deal and we made big dinners and stuff like that. But it was nothing crazy or out of the ordinary.

When I was younger, I wanted to be an artist, and then I couldn’t get into the art school. I ended up going to a vocational school to check it out because my parents were like, “hey, you know, at the very least you can leave with some kind of trade.” And I soon as I walked in the kitchen, I fell in love with it.

Yeah, and you grew up in Port Richmond, right?

Yes.

What was that? Like, did you enjoy growing up there? Do you still live there?

No, I don’t still live there. I am, you know, being a typical Philadelphian, I wanted to get out of Philadelphia. Especially then, Fishtown wasn’t what it is now and the Port Richmond/Fishtown/Kensington area was a little rough and there was a lot of drugs and I didn’t want to fall into any of that. So as soon as high school was over I wanted to get out so I went to Providence.

Providence, Rhode Island?

Yeah for Johnson & Wales.

OK, but you’re back living in the area now, right?

Yeah, I’ve been back and forth a couple times. I came back to work at Le Bec-Fin, then left again to work in New York and then came back again. Every time I leave Philly I’m like “I gotta get out of here” and then I leave and I’m like “man, I miss Philly.”

How would you describe the food scene in South Philly?

It’s definitely up and coming. The scene just popped up almost overnight. Just on every street every restaurant down here is great. I mean, I’m pretty sure we have the most Three Bell restaurants. Like how are you? Like, you know in one single like small compact area. The food scene is just awesome. It’s up-and-coming. I wish they could figure out how to get people a place to park — that would make things a little better, but it’s great. It’s here. It’s awesome. Everybody’s doing great things, and there’s plenty of great restaurants and it’s a great place to live. So like that’s why when I came back I, you know, I was like, I think we should live in South Philly and I fell in love with it. I love this area.

OK, and last question: What’s your favorite part of your job working at Laurel?

It’s the team. When I was in New York, I was working at Del Posto, and before that I was at Le Bec-Fin. So I was working in these big kitchens and you don’t really feel much in those the kitchens. It’s kind of like being on a yacht, you know, you don’t feel anything. No waves or anything. So when I came back to Philly to do this, the best part about it was like you’re in it. Our kitchen is super small here. It’s a tight team. There’s no front of house/back of house animosity. It’s like everybody’s on the same team, everybody truly loves each other and it’s an awesome environment to be in.