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Catching up with Jesse Sandlin

I just got off the phone with Baltimore's Jesse Sandlin, the Top Chef contestant who was the only one of the 17 who didn't make it to the reunion show that aired on Bravo last night.

I caught up with her at Sotto Sopra, where she's helping out her good friend, executive chef Bill Crouse, through the holidays.

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There were burning questions to ask Jesse: Why weren't you on the Top Chef reunion show? What did you think of the show's finale? What kitchen will you be cooking in next? And what's with the bleached-blond hair?

It turns out Jesse was really ill, with kidney stones. Her appearance on the finale, which had been shot the day before, had been something of a triumph, so she was doubly disappointed not to be part of the reunion. ...

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"I love Napa Valley," she said. "It was awesome they decided to shoot  [the finale and reunion] there. Also I thought it was really cool past contestants get to be part of it."

The finalists drew knives to see which former cheftestants they would work with in the finale. Michael Voltaggio, the eventual winner, ended up with Jesse, and praised her as his sous chef on the show.

"I was superstoked to be able to come back and help Michael with the win," she said, "and proud to be part of the winning team from Maryland."

So was finalist Kevin Gillespie's support team, which he said he was disappointed in, a deciding factor in his loss?

Maybe, said Jesse, "but part of being a chef is managing whatever team you have to work with."

As for the blond hair, which made its first appearance on the finale, Jesse said she's a natural blond. Every time her mother watched her on Top Chef, she would call after the show and say, "You don't look like my daughter" because of the brown hair.

Before her mom came for a visit, Jesse decided to go back to being blond.

"I like to change my hair anyway," she said.

So what's next? Jesse isn't sure, but she feels her work on Top Chef was a good thing for her career.

"When I first got back, I was really depressed," she said. "I didn't do as well as I hoped. But I tried to take it a day at a time."

After a month in Australia visiting friends and traveling, Jesse is back and hopes to get a permanent job in the Baltimore area.

"I have a few irons in the fire," she said. "I have a young niece and two nephews here. I want to stick around and be Aunt Jess awhile longer." 

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