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PBS: "Cooking Under Fire"

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Sara Lawson, Autumn Maddox and Katie Hagan-Whelchel
Finalists
Monday, July 11, 2005; 12:00 PM

"Cooking Under Fire" takes viewers behind the scenes as aspiring chefs are put through a coast-to-coast challenge that tests all their talents -- including culinary acumen, endurance, business skills, management abilities, artistic sensibility and even purchasing power -- revealing what it takes to work in the high-stakes, high-stress world of restaurants and fine dining.

The final show, which airs on PBS on Wednesday, July 13, culminates with one skilled individual winning the job of chef at one of famed chef and restaurateur Todd English's restaurants in New York City (check local listings ).

"Cooking Under Fire" finalists Sara Lawson, Autumn Maddox and Katie Hagan-Whelchel were online Monday, July 11, at Noon ET to talk about their experiences with "Cooking Under Fire" before the show's finale in New York.

Finalists' Biographies and Journal Entries:

Sara Lawson

Autumn Maddox

Katie Hagan-Whelchel

A transcript follows.

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Autumn Maddox: Good morning everyone and thank you for all of your questions!!- Autumn

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San Jose, Calif.: For Sara -- Where do you get your pretty headwear? I would love to have something like that for my work. Good luck -- I'm rooting for you!

Sara Lawson: That's a pretty funny question! I came to the competition with only one scarf and picked up more once we got to Vegas in a gift shop. I guess I didn't really think I would make it so far. Don't know a specific store you could go to, sorry. Thanks for rooting for me!

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Philadelphia, Pa.: I walk into your restaurant. All I want is a grilled cheese. What would each of you offer me that is unique and good, or would any of you refuse to serve me?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: I would totally hook you up and add some fresh bread&killer cheese and maybe some truffle oil!!

Autumn Maddox: Hey, first I would find some beautiful heirloom tomatoes, sliced thinly, lightly seasoned and tossed with evoo and some salt and pepper. My cheese of choice would be some St. Andre Triple Creme on some lightly toasted Brioche!

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Washington, D.C.: Any advice on how to plan the preparation for a dinner party? I am always overcooking the chicken or steak because I am preparing it while the guests are arriving and get distracted. Or, I prepare it in advance and then while trying to reheat it, it gets dried out. Same for salads, (even though I have learned to wait to put the dressing on until just before serving), but assembling it in advance and leaving it in the refrigerator sometimes results in wilted lettuce. Desserts seem to be the one thing that always goes well for me.

Should I just resign myself to not being able to participate in pleasantries unless folks are willing to come to the kitchen and chat? Our kitchen is small so buying one of those warmers is not an option. Any good books on the topic? Would a few cooking demonstration classes help? Do I need to entertain more in order to figure this one out?

Thanks.

Autumn Maddox: For starters, I would stick to either braised or roasted dishes, dishes that can be reheated last minute while you entertain guests. As for your salad course, incase you don't own one I would invest in a salad spinner. Wash and spin your lettuce ahead of time, keep your garnishes ie.. radish, herbs, carrot, cheese, etc., ... separate until you are ready to serve. When ready to serve, set out your chilled plates, toss your salad with a small amount of vinaigrette- and I mean just enough, garnish and serve. Make sure that your vinaigrette is appropriate for your type of lettuces!!

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St. Johns, Fla.: First of all, you girls rock! I am very impressed with your skills. Where do you find inspiration for the food that you make daily?

Autumn Maddox: Inspiration-

What's local and fresh!! The changing seasons with all the different produce just perfectly ripe gives me all the inspiration that I need!!

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Jacksonville, Fla.: What do you think about a 49-year-old male starting out in the culinary arts field? I will be retiring from the Navy from executive medicine and I am ready for a change. I have taken courses at Le Cordon Bleu in London when I was stationed there. Any suggestions?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: You're never too old to start a career in cooking!!! Follow your stomach!!!

Sara Lawson: If you want it bad enough it's yours for the taking! Subscribe to Art Culinaire, get some good knives and find a mentor to work for.

Autumn Maddox: Go for it!! The most important part of this career is passion. If you have there is no stopping you!

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Santa Monica, Calif.: For Sara Lawson, We are impressed with your progress and growth as a chef. It appears that you are a recent graduate of Culinary School, but you are competing admirably with more experienced people. How do you manage the Pressure?

Sara Lawson: Thankfully I was blessed by a true competitive spirit. I usually perform better under pressure, test well, etc. After the first few competitions I was hungry for the adrenaline! Since the show I have started playing a lot more poker!

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Glen Air, Pa.: I haven't watched much of the Cooking with Fire series but I find it interesting all three of you finalists are female. This isn't showcasing my powers of deduction! But still, are there many famous (either in the business or out in the world) female chefs? I see you three are vying for a place at one of Todd English's restaurants. Can you discuss gender politics in the business?

A (male) novice cook

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: Well the origin of the kitchen started out as a brigade system. Enough said. Men ruling this mentality. So needless to say it is a tough world to work in, but what I think dries most women in the restaurant world is the fact that we are passionate about our filed. We are in it for the same reasons as men we love to cook. We just have to be seen and heard a little bit louder than most to make a point or difference.

Sara Lawson: Work that is physically demanding is tough for anyone, but in my experience women do work harder to compensate. You get used to being the only woman in the kitchen pretty fast.

Autumn Maddox: Julia Child!! The most famous Chef in my book!

Only on the rare occasions does my gender seem to be an issue- actually only once.

Other then that time I haven't thought about it at all..

It's hard work, whether female or male...

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Tyson's Corner, Va.: Hello ladies,

I've really enjoyed watching the show and I think that you are all a credit to your profession. How much contact have you had with the outside world during filming? For example, Katie when you were in NYC working at Olives were you able to see any of your friends or visit your favorite bar? Or was it all a whirlwind of cooking and filming?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: The thing I said to myself before I left for the show was to take this as a serious job interview. Of course I made friends on the show but really didn't do anything much after the tapings because the call times were so early.

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Philadelphia, Pa.: I walk into your restaurant. All I want is a grilled cheese. What would each of you offer me that is unique and good, or would any of you refuse to serve me?

Sara Lawson: Of course I would serve you. I'd just give you the grilled cheese, but offer you a variety of cheeses... truffle cheese? Provolone? Or good quality Sharp Cheddar?

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Bethesda, Md.: I just have to ask -- is Katsuji -really- the way he comes across on the show? I think to myself that some of that arrogance has to be a bit of an act.

Sara Lawson: Yes, he really is.

Autumn Maddox: I became pretty good friends with Katsuji, he is pretty close to the same as portrayed on the show, but he can be very nice and supportive when you are his friend. He is actually just a big joker!!

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Jacksonville, Fla.: You mention Art Culinaire to subscribe to. Do you recommend any other cooking magazines or books?

Sara Lawson: Saveur, Cooks Ill.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Hi,

An early question for all three:

What current TV chef personalities (Alton Brown, Emeril (sp?), Julia Child) inspired you?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: I love the guy from galloping gourmet!!!! He is such a riot!

Autumn Maddox: Julia Child and Jacques Pepin!!

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Jamaica Plain, Mass.: What has it been like seeing yourself on TV on Cooking Under Fire as the weeks have progressed?

Sara Lawson: Absolutely insane! Trying not to spend too much time thinking what I would have done differently...

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: I tell you what it is so funny hearing my southern twang.

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Markham, Ontario, Canada: How do you decide which spice to use for say a fish recipe and how do you know which additional complementary spice to use with the first? What drives an original recipe?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: Always showcase the fish itself. Then don't pick a spice that will mask the freshness of the fish. When I create dishes I like to tell a story or recreate a found memory or deconstruct or reconstruct, but always using killer product.

Sara Lawson: I would say the cooking method is more what "drives" for me. And as far as spices go, simple is always best. Can't go wrong with salt and pepper!

Autumn Maddox: I go to the market and see what's fresh. Then you make your decision based on that. The fish will tell you what it wants- you just have to listen.

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Lincoln Park: Do you think the editing of the show fairly depicts the personalities of the contestants, or is it like other reality shows that try to highlight certain traits? From my perspective, Autumn is portrayed as the perky, eager one, Katie the tough, driven one, and Sara as the quiet, flying under-the-radar one. Is that perception true to life, or did you experience each other differently from how you're portrayed?

Sara Lawson: I was all business on the show. In real life I am definitely not the quiet one.

Autumn Maddox: I do smile all of the time!! Even when I am angry... Different sort of smile mind you!!

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Washington, D.C.: I am an aspiring cook -- I dare not say chef until I have made it. I was wondering how can you get experience when you offer free service as a sou chef just to learn and no one gives you a chance. Can you recommend anything that does not cost an arm and a leg. I am 51 and would love to do this. I can debone a chicken with the best of them and stuff the whole thing. Help.

Autumn Maddox: Research the restaurants in your area. Pick the one that calls to you, the one that is doing things how you would do them if you know how or could. Write them a letter listing why you want the privilege to take up space in their kitchen why they should take time to teach you. Then keep bothering them until they let you in - and be prepared for a no. Sometimes it doesn't work out!!

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Greensboro, N.C.: When you started the series, who did you think would win (other than the three of you)?

Sara Lawson: There was never one person I thought would win- it changed every day.

Autumn Maddox: I feel the same way as Sara.. You never know from day to day.

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Lincoln Park: Do you think the editing of the show fairly depicts the personalities of the contestants, or is it like other reality shows that try to highlight certain traits? From my perspective, Autumn is portrayed as the perky, eager one, Katie the tough, driven one, and Sara as the quiet, flying under-the-radar one. Is that perception true to life, or did you experience each other differently from how you're portrayed?

Sara Lawson: I was all business on the show. Many of my friends have never seen me that serious. I am definitely not the quiet one!

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Arlington, Va.: First off, I just wanted to say how impressed I am with your abilities. I know restaurant kitchens generally are very male dominated arenas, so I'm excited to see three women in the top spots on this show. Now for my question, which challenge did you find the most difficult?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: the EGG how silly is that. It was the first challenge and personally I hadn't been in a professional kitchen in 2 years.

Sara Lawson: The one fish, three dishes was pretty tough. I had about two minutes to plan my menu!

Autumn Maddox: On the line at Olives. No hand sink or tongs- that sucked!!

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Alexandria, Va.: I would just like to say that you all kick butt! I love the show, I've seen every episode, and I can honestly say that you three thoroughly deserve to be the finalists. No matter who wins, you are all awesome and I'm sure you'll all go on to do great things in the culinary world. Good luck everybody, may the best chef win!

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: THANK you!!!!!

Autumn Maddox: Thank you!

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Jacksonville, Fla.: For each of you, what are your goals (besides winning the chance to cook for Todd English!)?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: Never stop learning. I would love to go where the next food movement to headin' SPAIN. The opportunity to work with Ferran Andria would be a dream!!!

Autumn Maddox: Learn Learn Learn

Follow Thomas Keller's advise- Respect your ingredients, prepare them properly.

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Bethesda, Md.: I just have to ask -- is Katsuji -really- the way he comes across on the show? I think to myself that some of that arrogance has to be a bit of an act.

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: He's a good guy but has a thick shell you just gotta breakthrough

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San Jose, Calif.: Thanks, Sara. How do all three of you keep your cool? I sweat just watching you work under fire. You must really love what you're doing --?

Sara Lawson: I sweat a lot too! I act first, react later.

Autumn Maddox: If you freak out, in the real world or on Cooking Under Fire- you die. There is no other option- power through it and deal with feelings etc.. later

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Madison, Wis.: This question is for any of the ladies:

Was there anyone you were happy to see 86'd from the show?

Sara Lawson: That is a pretty loaded question. I wouldn't describe it as "happy."

Autumn Maddox: No, we all became pretty close in the time that we had.

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Richmond, Va.: Hi everybody!

I have a cooking tool question: I'm getting married in the fall and my fiance is dragging me around to get registered. She's promised I get to pick out the kitchen knives (alright, I'm a boy). What brand/type would you all suggest? I'm open to all types of cooking, though I'm not really good at it!

Sara Lawson: Cant go wrong with Wusthoff knives. I'm partial to Japanese knives (Global, Kershaw Shun) but many men have said they don't fit men's hands well.

Autumn Maddox: I agree with Sara, I would handle each knive, and the one that fits you most comfortably should be the one that you go for.

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Washington, D.C.: Unfortunately, I haven't been able to follow the entire series. But I just wanted to comment on how pleased I was to see three women in the finals. I can't stand the old argument that men say they are better at cooking (and everything) -- just look at all the top chefs in the world. Is it hard for women in your field?

Autumn Maddox: This profession is hard enough as it is, I don't dwell on gender issues - I'm a girl, deal with it!

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Jacksonville, Fla.: For each of you, what are your goals (besides winning the chance to cook for Todd English!)?

Sara Lawson: Goal #1 - Keep cooking. Not stopping to have children any time soon.

Goal #2 - Keep learning new things, traveling, studying. Don't forget to experiment.

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McLean, Va.: How close has your experience been in doing this contest to real life in the kitchen?

Between this show and Gordon Ramsey's Hell's Kitchen, are you afraid you might have a heart attack from the stress?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: It's part of the job.

Sara Lawson: In the kitchen I try to never lose control. At some points in the competition I felt my control slipping away. We didn't always have time to plan our menus.

Autumn Maddox: In real life, there are no cameras on the line with cords to step over!!

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Woodbridge, Va.: Anyone who has an answer. Is there a market for pastry chefs ?

Thanks.

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: Depends what kind of market you mean.....

Sara Lawson: I wouldn't consider myself much of a pastry person. But with good networking and organizational skills, one could probably move up faster in pastry than anywhere else in the kitchen.

Autumn Maddox: There seems to be a lot of jobs available in the Seattle area for GOOD pastry chefs.

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Washington, D.C.: Evoo on tomatoes - what is evoo?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: Extra virgin olive oil

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Alexandria, Va.: I would just like to say that you all kick butt! I love the show, I've seen every episode, and I can honestly say that you three thoroughly deserve to be the finalists. No matter who wins, you are all awesome and I'm sure you'll all go on to do great things in the culinary world. Good luck everybody, may the best chef win!

Sara Lawson: Thanks for the support!

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McLean, Va.: What's Bobby English like?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: I think it's TODD

Sara Lawson: He goes by the name of Todd, I believe. He's a hoot.

Autumn Maddox: He is much better live then on Camera!

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Washington, D.C.: Evoo on tomatoes - what is evoo?

Autumn Maddox: Extra Virgin Olive Oil!

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Maryland: Galloping gourmet guy = Graham Kerr? I agree, he is super funny.

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: I would love to have a show like that!!!!

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Washington, D.C.: As you may have heard, we have a brand-new baby panda at the National Zoo. Do any of you have any good bamboo recipes to serve a nice congratulatory meal to the new mother and father?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: Let's see I would make a slaw using maybe a miso vinigraitte

Sara Lawson: I haven't served many animals in my restaurants, but my guess is that panda's probably prefer the simpler route in their food. Probably harvesting the bamboo and putting it in a big pile would be pretty thoughtful. Don't want to give the panda's high blood pressure or anything.

Autumn Maddox: I don't know the dietary restrictions of pandas so I am laying low on that question until further investigation!

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Seattle in September: Congrats to all of you for being the final 3! I've really enjoyed and learned from the show.

For Autumn --

I will be traveling to Seattle in September. Would you please recommend some restaurants (off-the beaten track)?

Autumn Maddox: Crush

Harvest Vine

Union

Le Gourmand

Le Pichet

and CC's burgers on 26 and Union!! Try the ET Burger- Awesome!!

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Arlington, Va.: Katie, are you any relation to Lisa Whelchel, who played Blair on The Facts Of Life?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: We look an awful lot alike don't we!!!!!! wink wink

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Fruit Cove, Fla.: Is it necessary to go to culinary arts school in order to get into the industry? Do you have to work your way up from dishwasher or what is the normal way to break in?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: I had been working in kitchens for 4 years before I decided to go into school. I will say one thing you won't have to prove your self as much if you do hava a degree. Plus the knowledge you gain from your chefs really helps.

Sara Lawson: I think in order to get anything out of school, one needs experience first. And of course a true desire to learn doesn't hurt. But some of the best Chefs I have worked for never went to school. I guess it depends on how you learn best. And if you have the patience to wait for promotions.

Autumn Maddox: I think that culinary school is a big help, just for the basics. But I would find a talented Chef and go from there. You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with.

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Washington, D.C.: What restaurant that you know of best represents the sort of place you would like to own or be top chef of someday?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: ANISA-Anita Lo Such a cool place although I am also found of Jaleo- Jose Andres.

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Fort lauderdale, Fla.: How can I be a contestant on the show. I am a culinary student that loves to cook and bake, and I would love to be on one of these culinary reality shows. What are the details?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: Contact PBS.org

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Submitting early: I'm enjoying the series very much. I just wish more public TV channels were showing it -- and rerunning it. Unlike some reality shows, you are already very talented in your career. Working the line seems a lot like being in the military -- you have to take orders instantly and not talk back. Agree? And the working conditions -- standing on your feet for hours, hot temps, handling hot foods and pans -- could be dangerous.

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: I know it sounds weird but I find myself draining the lactic acid in my legs at night before I go to bed. It totally works!

Sara Lawson: When I work too much my arms fall asleep when I'm sleeping! The heat isn't so much a problem, just keep water at hand... My coworkers have to get used to the fact that my face gets so red! They think I'm going to pass out, but I'm a redhead that's just what my skin does.

It's only dangerous when you are working with idiots who burn you.

Autumn Maddox: I love the hard work, the heat, the stress. When you get home and can do nothing because you are so drained it makes me feel good. Lots of jobs are dangerous, ours just happens to be a little more visible!! Burns on the arms, cuts etc...

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Idabel, Okla.: How long were you at each city and how many days did the complete competition last?

Sara Lawson: Three to four days in each city, and a full two weeks of competing.

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Los Angeles, Calif.: So happy to be able to say, girl power, you women rule!! It is more than a coincidence that you started with half the number of women and now have passed all the competition. Do you think there are female characteristics that add to your success? Collaborative abilities? Communication skills?

Autumn Maddox: Just talent.

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Chicago, Ill.: I'm glad to see what I've always known, 'women know their stuff'! The men don't compare and fell far behind early in this competition. I am proud to be a woman watching this show. The men were lazy, complacent, and arrogant, they just didn't care enough or listen. Congratulations for making women proud all over. I'm pulling for Katie! She works well under pressure and has made sure she's gotten the experience needed to compete in the real world. Sara and Autumn will do well just from the exposure. But they know their stuff just as much, but I feel Katie has an edge. I will be disappointed if Katie doesn't win, but I know she'll do well. She's the type of employee anyone boss would fight to keep!! Good luck to all the ladies in the finale. I'll be cheering with some Chicago pizza from Barry's Spot and some Usinger All Beef frankfurters!! Mustard and onions only!! LOL!!

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: Shout out to CHI-TOWN!!!

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Boston, Mass.: If you were to open your own restaurant tomorrow, what would you name it?

Sara Lawson: The Hog's Trough

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: The like CHI-VES

Autumn Maddox: I don't even think about my own restaurant at this point!!

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Good afternoon. Congratulations to you all.

On an earlier show, you were all shown how to make one of Todd English's signature dishes, a sole dish. And one of your competitors (Yannick) expressed his opinion that the dish was too salty. And WHAM! Was he excoriated for it. Ming raked him over the coals, this was inexcusable to ...

I'm sorry, what was inexcusable here, exactly? If I ordered the sole in this restaurant, and told the waiter it was too salty, would Ming burst out of the kitchen and tell me I'm not showing proper deference to the chef?

Of course you need to show proper respect to Chef English. But it's not like he said, "This tastes like crap." He said it was salty.

Did you feel, at the time, that what Yannick said was unforgivably disrespectful?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: Totally......I mean after we were stand in M. Mina's restaurant , in the Bellagio. Do I really need to say anything more!!!

Sara Lawson: I thought it was pretty rude for him to have said. And I did not think the fish was too salty.

Autumn Maddox: If I was to go to Mina's restaurant and a dish was way to salty I would speak up, but we weren't guests in HIS dining room. We were cooks in HIS kitchen. You were allowed in Micheal Mina's kitchen and cooked HIS dish how HE wanted it, then to tell him that his was way to salty was pretty entertaining to me and perhaps a little crazy!!

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w-s, N.C.: Are you surprised that the final three are all women in the mostly male dominated business? Your fourth finalist seemed more representative of the sexist comments, etc., I heard and saw back when I was cooking for a living. imo you three listened better (along w/solid fundamentals)

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: There's always a good woman behind a good man.

Sara Lawson: Yes I was surprised, but when it came down to the final four I was pretty sure that would be the result.

Autumn Maddox: Taking notes, listening and following directions is extremely important in this line of work. Of course talent and a developed palate is just as important!

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Crystal City, Va.: What is it like working with Ming Tsai? Do you think your skills have improved with this show? How?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: Ming is great, he is so laid back but yet want you to be better at all times, giving criticism when needed. Skills are rusty as we all saw last week, but as far as flavors and pairing definitely got much better. Being able to put a menu together in 30 sec. is not an easy take especially when the challenge is 45 mins.

Autumn Maddox: I enjoyed not only his ability with food, but all of his knowledge of behind the scenes camera work!! Amazing!

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Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C.: Congratulations to all three of you on being the finalists -- you all bring unique strengths to the competition and it's truly difficult to pick a "favorite." So I'm going to ask you to pick a favorite instead--as you noted on the show, it's remarkable that three of four women are the last chefs standing. Who are the currently cooking women chefs that you most admire and who have influenced your style?

Sara Lawson: The best woman chef I have worked for would be Michelle Mah of Ponzu in San Francisco. She's a great Chef to work for and a one to keep an eye on for future endeavors!

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: I would say Alice Water she is a real purist. Simplify. Let the ingredients speak for them self. I just love her ideology behind food.

Autumn Maddox: Alice Water - Katie tagged it spot on.

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Washington, D.C.: How do you "drain the lactic acid" from your legs?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: I put my legs up flush with the wall straight up

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Upstate New York: I love "Cooking Under Fire." It really seems to test your abilities as a chef. Not at all like "Hell's Kitchen," which seems to only test one's ability to put up with getting screamed at. So glad you three made it to the end. Some of your fellow contestants weren't very likeable. Which were you glad to see get the 86 pan?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: I wouldn't say glad to see go but as far as competition I was glad that Katsuji was 86'd. He was sooooo FAST and boy had good skills.

Sara Lawson: I would agree with Katie. I really thought Katsuji was tough competition and when he was 86'd I was relieved.

Autumn Maddox: I wasn't the one to get the pan, so I guess you could say that I was glad to see each and every one get a pan- as long as it wasn't me!! I missed Russ when he left though...

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Washington, D.C.: Where did you all go to Culinary School and what were your first positions out of school?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: I went to school at Western Culinary School in Portland,Or

My first job out of school was at Alaain Ducasse at The Essex House. I was there when they were awarded 4 stars and worked there for 2 years.

Autumn Maddox: I went to Edmonds Community College, in Edmonds WA and it worked for me just fine!

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Boston, Mass.: What was the most surprising thing you learned about yourself or about being a chef as a result of being on Cooking Under Fire?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: Never give up!!!!!

Sara Lawson: I have so much to learn.

Autumn Maddox: Power through it, keep learning and never settle for inferior product or people!!

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North Carolina: I'm growing pumpkins right now and have noticed I have a lot of the yellow flowers but few pumpkins. Is there anything I can do to use the flowers in my cooking?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: I am not sure if the flowers are edible but I am a lover of pumpkinseed oil. Maybe you could make a salad of zucchini blossoms and pumpkin blossoms or even infuse in an oil.

Sara Lawson: squash blossoms are edible and go great in salads or stuffed with say, goat cheese depending on their size. Make a roasted pumpkin soup and garnish with the flowers.

Autumn Maddox: I don't know about pumpkin flowers, only squash blossoms.. This needs more investigation.

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Arlington, Va.: Is there anyone that you all are surprised didn't make it to the final three -- or the final four?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: I totally thought that Billy would have made it further

Autumn Maddox: What I thought changed day to day...

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Crystal City, Va.: What is it like working with Ming Tsai? Do you think your skills have improved with this show? How?

Sara Lawson: I loved Ming. If all twelve contestants were to come back and do the competition again, I bet it would be a lot tougher of a competition, and with different results, too.

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Jacksonville, Fla.: You have my interest peaked now. You mentioned that it is easier to move up in the Pastry Chef world than regular chef ... why is that? What about boulangerie (bread)?

Sara Lawson: Ok I will say this: Pastry is an art that involves more organization and planning than any other part of the kitchen. If one was driven to move up in the field of pastry, I think their skills may be recognized faster than that of a line cook.

Autumn Maddox: I don't pay attention to the movement of pastry chefs. All I care about is if they can put out a great product and fit in to the tight family that we become while working in the restaurant.

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Williamsburg, Va.: Two quick questions:

Favorite dish? Least favorite dish?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: Totally hate the first 2 dishes-egg and mise en place challenge. I was more concerned about getting my feet wet so to speak on in the challenge. I loved the Monte Cristo Cubano. I really wanted to try some of Katsuji's mango ice cream!!!

Sara Lawson: Favorite dish- so hard to decide... A good vindaloo, spicy eggplant with black bean sauce and thai basil, and it's funny but I really love all kinds of beans.

Least favorite dish- overdressed salads, I'm a bit skittish when it comes to some organ meats- haven't tried cabeza or brains- or insects either.

Autumn Maddox: Favorite dish- fried egg sandwich over easy, toasted brioche, fontina cheese, spicy mustard and prosciutto.

Heaven!

Least favorite- Any dish with to much White pepper

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Santa Monica, Calif.: As our hometown girl, I am interested in Sara Lawson's pluck and attitude -- I am rooting for you Sara, I am very impressed that you are so young and yet have such composure. Does your theatrical background help?

Sara Lawson: Oh that's pretty funny! I am glad to hear you're rooting for me! And yes, now that you mention it- The one most important thing I learned from practicing theater is this: Practice 100% commitment and honesty or go home.

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Arlington, Va.: Is there anyone that you all are surprised didn't make it to the final three -- or the final four?

Sara Lawson: No. Except for maybe myself, I knew Katie and Autumn were strongest.

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McLean, Va.: Good Afternoon! Can any of you tell us how the practice of squirting little patterns and lines of various sauces onto the plates of diners began? The few times I have been able to afford to go to "upscale" eateries, the $34.95 steak barely covered the tiny center of my plate, but the swirls of color seemed to be used to hide the fact that the main dish was about the size of a postage stamp. When will chefs stop using this trick to hide the fact that they are ripping off their customers?

Many thanks! --Hungry for truth in McLean

Autumn Maddox: that's funny!! I think you are choosing to dine at the wrong restaurants if you think they are ripping you off!!

Eat somewhere else!!

No matter where you go or how much you spend you should always be able to recognize the value of your meal.

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London, UK: Where do you guys eat when you go out for a nice meal in D.C.?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: I love Jaleo

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Portland, Ore.: What motivated you to enter this competition? Did you -really- want a job on the line at Todd English's restaurant or did you have other reasons -- media exposure, the thrill of winning, paid-for travel around the country or something else?

I'm delighted that the three of you made it to the finals. You showed, over and over again, that it takes commitment rather than arrogance to win.

Sara Lawson: Auditioning for this show was more for the experience in the actual audition than anything else. I never thought I would be called back.

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: Life if to short to not to be spontaneous.

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Torrance, Calif.: Congratulations to you all! I'm looking for a great marinade or sauce for salmon and what cooking method would you use?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: A compound butter is always easy. Soften butter and add any internal garnish such as herbs,fruits, spices, nuts anything really. Mix well wrap in plastic wrap and freeze. Apply to fish vegt, chix, or what ever. I've made sweet butters and put them on pancakes and waffles.

With salmon I love horseradish

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Los Angeles, Calif.: Why do you think Los Angeles has the reputation as a cultural wasteland? In my experience there are some very innovative and creative culinary forces here. How do you think LA stacks up as a food destination?

Sara Lawson: I love LA (born and raised) but I will say that it is very spread out in comparison to other culinary cities. I'll see what I can do as far as improving the "wasteland." Give me a couple of years...

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Eastern Market, Washington, D.C.: Was there any one in particular who was eliminated in one of the early stages due to some fatal error that you might have picked to go all the way?

Katie Hagan-Whelchel: I thought for sure Billy would have gone further

Sara Lawson: I thought JP would go far.

Autumn Maddox: You never knew who would make good choices or bad day to day... I was just surprised when they made such obvious mistakes, like I know they know better!!

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Sara Lawson: I'd like to thank everyone for supporting the show, it was really an amazing experience. Be on the look out for my kool-aid risotto!!!

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Katie Hagan-Whelchel: Thanks to all you guys who have been watchin'.....the show was such an amazing experience and I love that the women rocked!

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Autumn Maddox: Thank you everyone for all of your questions!! I really had a wonderful time doing the show, cooking with great ingredients, meeting talented chefs as well as getting to know my fellow competitors. The experience was amazing and I am just so happy that I could be a part of it. Remember to always keep learning, respect your ingredients and support your local farmers, ranchers, markets and organic foods!

Thank you, Autumn Maddox

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Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.


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