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Marcel Vigneron describes 'Top Chef 2's hair-raising incident


By Christopher Rocchio, 01/22/2007 

Last week's broadcast of Bravo's Top Chef 2 got a taste of The Real World last Wednesday when 26-year-old Marcel Vigneron was wrestled from sleep by three of his fellow culinary-competition contestants for a quick head shave.

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"I'm taking a nap on the couch, and Cliff picked me up in a full-nelson, tossed me on the floor. The plan was to toss me around like a rag doll and have Ilan hold a camera and Sam shave me while Cliff held me down," Vigneron said in last Thursday's Las Vegas Weekly.  "I broke free and told them to get away from me. I went into my room and tried to take a nap, and Cliff follows me in there and starts hurling chocolate bars at me! I then had to go to another room and lock the door."

Twenty-eight year old Cliff Crooks, 24-year-old Ilan Hall, 26-year-old Elia Aboumrad, 28-year-old Sam Talbott and Vigneron were the final five contestants in last Wednesday's Top Chef 2 episode, titled "Sense and Sensuality."  Prior to the elimination challenge during a night of revelry, Aboumrad and Hall shaved their heads, and while they couldn't convince Crooks to do the same they were able to goad him to try and cut Vigneron's hair. 

"I watched the tape, stunned. After impressing us with their skills and professionalism earlier in the evening, it seemed the chefs had swung the pendulum as far as they possibly could in the opposite direction, undermining their efforts to date with a ridiculous -- even cruel -- act of juvenile intimidation," said head judge Tom Colicchio in his blog on the show's official website.  "It was like watching an instructional video in bad group dynamics -- four apparently decent individuals, fueled by alcohol and subconscious anger, became one collective disaster gleefully terrorizing the designated odd-man-out."

While Colicchio said if he had his way all four accomplices would have been sent packing and Vigneron would already be the Top Chef 2 winner "by default," he said, "For the first time all season, the producers stepped in with a veto."  After a brief discussion between Colicchio, producers and Bravo's legal department,  Crooks was the only one sent home, as he was disqualified for "harming or threatening to harm other contestants."

"I don't believe violence solves anything, but when I broke free from them, I saw this lamp and I just wanted to smash it over one of their heads. That freaked me out. At that moment, that had me playing their game," Vigneron told Las Vegas Weekly.  "And it kills me that these are the guys that question my maturity. I mean, pinning me down to shave me head, that's what drunken frat boys do, not a top chef."

Now Vigneron, Hall, Talbott and Aboumrad will compete in this week's Top Chef 2 finale on Wednesday, January 24 at 10PM ET/PT on Bravo. Despite making it this far, Vigneron, a Culinary Institute of America-educated master cook at Joel Robuchon in Vegas' MGM Grand, has noticeably had a hard time interacting with the other cooks on Top Chef.  Vigneron said he thinks some of the other chefs feel "threatened" by him, while adding he was surprised "how two-faced they could be."

"I will never forget my first meeting with Ilan. We were in our room, and I thought a nice way to break the ice was to show him my knives. Now for us, knives are like an extension of our arms, and it's a topic of conversation frequently," he told the Las Vegas Weekly.  "So here we were, talking about knives, and he was asking me about my deba [a Japanese-style knife used for sushi], and that he had one but didn't know how to use it, so I showed him...Then he goes into the interview room and starts slamming me.  I mean, dude, we just met. What could I have possibly said to you for you to call me out like that?"

While other Top Chef contestants have used words like "selfish" and "arrogant" to describe Vigneron, the lightning rod for criticism tends to disagree.

"I don't think I am [arrogant]. I believe in my food, and my abilities, and seriously, if you don't have that belief, how far are you going to make it in the competition?  But I never went out of my way to slam anybody else, which I think would be an arrogant thing to do," he told Las Vegas Weekly.  "[I] offered help to the other chefs whenever I could, so I find that [selfish] accusation puzzling."

Vigneron said he simply finds it too difficult to take the other contestants on Top Chef 2 seriously.

"I really think the other contestants treated this show like Survivor, where you focus on one person and vote them off and vent all this rage at them in the process," Vigneron told Las Vegas Weekly.  "What frustrated me most of all is that some of them would come out of the interview and say, ‘Dude, I trash-talked you, but don't take it personally because I was drunk,' or they'd say, ‘Don't take it personally, Marcel, that's how the game is played.' It's like they indulged in Hate on Marcel Day because they knew it made for good television."

So while he doesn't hold a vendetta against the other contestants because "after all, it was just a show," Vigneron said he did make some real friends during the production of Top Chef 2.

"The friends I've made have been with the production crews. So many of them came up to me after the show and said they were rooting for me, that they thought I was getting a raw deal from the rest of the contestants," he told Las Vegas Weekly.  "I take pride in that because these people really knew what went down."

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