Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Washington viewers of Bravo's "Top Chef," which airs at 10 p.m. today, have a hometown cook to root for in the competition to win $100,000. Emily Sprissler, a line cook at Nobhill in Las Vegas, grew up in Northern Virginia, where she graduated from Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke. The 30-year-old Sprissler, who also has a degree in photography, worked at Vidalia before attending California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.

Back home for surgery on a herniated disk (she slipped on spilled duck fat at Nobhill), she spoke by phone to Food editor Joe Yonan about the heat of an on-air kitchen.

How did your expectations of the reality show differ from, well, reality?

I thought I'd be with a bunch of people that I wouldn't bother to get to know, but that we'd have amazing culinary experiences. The opposite happened. Some of the challenges I thought, "This isn't what I'm about." But I met some great people.

Do you think they cast the show with stock characters in mind?

Yes. The viewing public needs to be able to relate to what's on the screen. The producers needed Mike [Midgley] because he's basically Randy Quaid. Most of America is going to relate to him. And everybody knows the arrogant guy, and everybody knows the tall skinny bitch. But she [Marisa Churchill] is playing to a character.

You got a nice shout-out from Season One winner Harold Dieterle in the first episode for your pork with apples.

It was the ultimate compliment: He basically said it was just like Mom used to make. That was great, because it's hardest to cook for your peers.

What's next, after recovering from the back surgery?

As soon as they rebuild me and make me stronger, I'll be going back to Nobhill. But for the last couple of years I've been writing fictional stories surrounding kitchen situations. I'm looking for an agent.

Sounds like the makings of a TV show.

Here's hoping.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company