Q&A with BIG TIME Winner: Chef Michael Bergin

Q. How did you end up on The BIG TIME?
My good friend Daniel Bojorquez of the forthcoming La Brasa in Somerville, MA was on Chopped. Later that week, Chef McClelland asked me if I had any interest in being on a culinary television show. I felt it would be an exciting endeavor so with the help and support of him and L’Espalier’s marketing director Lauren Palumbo, we discovered The Big Time. The show just seemed like a good fit for me, so I applied.

Q. Who are some people who inspire you to chase your BIG TIME dream?

There are a lot of people that have inspired me throughout my entire career. First and foremost, my family – they are extremely patient with my unusual work schedule and my frequent absence. Also, my girlfriend, my partner, Caroline Weed who supports me daily and always encourages me to chase my dreams. Professionally, the list is endless and this is not in any particular order, but these individuals have played dynamic roles in my growth: Matthew Keeler gave me my first cooking job at 15 years old, Kim Rego, Andrea Schnell, Louis DiBiccari and BJ Salazar who made me realize through their passion that this is not just a job but a lifestyle – they taught me how to crawl before I could walk and walk before I could run, Geoff Gardner gave me my first cooking job in Boston, Daniel Bojorquez, James Hackney, Alex Crabb, Martin Porto, Jiho Kim, Matthew Delisle, Jared Bacheller…they are all unique and entirely different from each other but have imparted so much wisdom throughout the years and they still do.  Chef Frank McClelland, chef and owner of L’Espalier is a true inspiration to all of us.  His drive for perfection and no boundaries-mentality is infectious. Finally, the entire front of the house team and back of the house team at L’Espalier that sacrifice so much personally to offer something that is truly great for others.

A. What was it like meeting your BIG TIME Mentor on the show? What was the best advice he/she gave you?
Having the opportunity to meet and work with Chefs Hubert and Susan was surreal. I have followed them for years and am aware of their reputations, and then to be sitting at a table across from them was incendiary.  Although there was a lot of advice that was so helpful, the best piece was to always work and re-work the recipe until you get it right. From the kitchen to a business formula.

Q. What did you think of your fellow contestants? What do you think made you stand out?

The other contestants were talented and friendly folks. Taking us out of our comfort zones was difficult. Dealing with unknown ingredients, settings and challenges…it was anyone’s to win. I just tried focusing on what was in front of me and how I was going to manipulate the challenges.

Q. Have you stayed in touch with them since the show?

The other contestants and I have not stayed in touch.  I’m a bit of a shut in.

Q. Which challenge was the most difficult for you? Why?

The toughest challenge was not actually a challenge, but the prize. Having to produce my three-course menu for 90-plus people in ten hours with nothing to start with was so, so much pressure. Oh yeah, and it’s on TV.  Thankfully, Chef Keller’s team was open and got me through it. It wouldn’t have happened without them. Seriously…

Q.  What was going through your head before you went out there at the end when you had to succeed? Were you nervous?

I’m not going to lie, I was always nervous. It didn’t matter what time or what competition. Not nervous about my ability, but nervous about what was getting thrown at me….

Q. How has appearing on The BIG TIME changed your life? Do you ever get recognized?

After being on The Big Time, I was working Saturday night service and a group of 12 women called me out of the kitchen for pictures. I came back and Chef asked me where I went and why I was so red. I told him it was really hot in the kitchen.

Q.  What are the next steps for you in your career? How will you build off the momentum from your BIG TIME victory?

. My next steps are really to just keep doing what I’m doing. Working hard, learning, teaching, and growing as a chef and a cook.  Trying to be a productive force in the culture of L’Espalier and the culinary scene in Boston.

Q. What advice do you have for people still struggling to get their big break, or shot at the Big Time?
Surrounding yourself with the right people is so important on the road of chasing your dreams and aspirations. Cultivate good vibrations and be humble. Be willing to ask for help and be willing to accept it. Know when to crawl and when to sprint. Build a strong foundation first and let the other floors fall in place after.