In the world of reality television, keeping secrets from faithful viewers is everything: any notable off set development helps to propel rumors, and draws higher ratings. Last week, when puckish Top Chef finalist Ilan Hall left the dimly lit plancha-teria Casa Mono, it prompted a avalanche of speculation of a size usually reserved for Punxsutawney Phil. Rather than reporting on whether Hall saw his shadow, the virtual crowd gathered on the Internet posited that this in fact meant that the Long Island native had won the Top Chef title. Two days ago, Food and Wine magazine accidentally “leaked” a major spoiler onto their web site in the form of a feature story naming the winner, only to pull it from their server in a matter of minutes. Suspicious. Food and Wine has since explained that victory writeups are commissioned for both finalists- in this case, Hall and “crazy-hair” Marcel Vigneron, and that the gaffe has nothing to do with the show’s real outcome, which airs tonight. No matter who wins, there’s probably going to be six more weeks of winter.

Despite all the foam jokes and fideos-filching accusations, it is clear that both finalists are serious about their craft. In interviews, Hall and Vigneron wisely acknowledge that much of becoming a chef isn’t exactly telegenic. Anthony “then, with twelve needles sticking out of his arm, the sous chef plated the most exquisite foie gras I’ve ever seen” Bourdain aside, real kitchen work often more often resembles C-Span territory, and not the action-packed land of “watch what happens.”

Last week, Gothamist spoke with Marcel Vigneron about his relationship with cooking, Top Chef conspiracy theories, and of course, the hairstyle that launched a thousand blogs.

How are you?
Quite well, can’t complain. It’s a pleasure to chat with you.

Do you read the Top Chef coverage on the Internet?
I steer far clear of the message boards. I just don’t have the time.

You work for Joël Robuchon at the Mansion in Las Vegas, which is not just any restaurant. Can you talk about a typical day there?
At the Mansion, everyday I go in, and it’s very serious. The people from Bravo, as soon as they came in to tape a segment, were like, “Uh, this place doesn’t look like very much fun, we’re not going to lie to you.” From a culinary standpoint, though, it is a lot of fun. There’s a lot that goes on there that doesn’t go on in other restaurants. When Robuchon is in town, it’s ridiculous- we’re all working 16 hours a day to begin with. It gets super hectic, and the menu changes almost completely in a few hours. Sometimes, we practice on dishes all day long, and Robuchon walks through the kitchen and tastes a particular dish. Then the chef says, “Uh, about that monkfish dish? It’s going on the menu tonight. You need to have at least 60 of them.” The standards are very high- I’m used to weighing every single ingredient down to a tenth of a gram. It’s working for a perfectionist. We have 6 and 15 course tasting menus.

That’s a lot of food. Why did you want to be on Top Chef?
I didn’t go to casting calls. An acquaintance- a prominent gentleman here in Vegas- thought I should go out for the show, merely to showcase my culinary capabilities.

I noticed a lot of people on message boards predict that you’ll be coming to New York in the future, to work. Others say Chicago; some say Paris. What’s the truth?

Yeah, [laughs] it’s all true. I keep a very open mind. I have a few stagiaires lined up for when I come to New York. I’d love to do one at WD-50, but it’s a five-day minimum. I love Wylie, and his head-on food. I have so much respect for that. As far as globetrotting: I do want to check out Paris, but Vegas has been really good to me- I was at the Epicurean Awards last night, and I met a lot of chefs. It was a good time. I met Heather from Hell’s Kitchen- and was like, “Hey, there’s my Reality TV culinary sister.”

Did you get along?
Yeah, really well. We had a blast.

Did you see Homaru Cantu and his headset wearing crew on Iron Chef?
Oh, I missed it. Versus Morimoto? Who won?

Morimoto lost.
[lengthy pause] Homaru Cantu won? [disbelief] Are you serious?

He was boring laser holes through edible packing peanuts.
Who wants to eat blown up popcorn and cornstarch? I would much rather have thinly sliced geoduck, or some nice baby octopus. One of the last times I was out in New York, I saw Morimoto at the International Chef’s Congress. He was throwing down some octopus. As far as Cantu goes, some of that stuff becomes so removed from the food where it reaches a point when you're like, what? Are you even still a restaurant?

Cantu said that his inspiration was “USB cables and personal computers.”
See, it’s not fresh pomelo or fresh citrus.

In an email, you wrote about your relationship with what is considered “molecular gastronomy.” You wrote “its cool to be able to change the texture of a liquid fat into a powder with the use of tapioca maltodextrin, but at what cost? It adds an undesireable level of sweetness not to mention it should only be consumed in moderation due to health concerns.” At the same time, people associate you with the way of the foam. Like it or not, you have become the ambassador of molecular gastronomy for a lot of viewers. What’s that like?
It’s a huge pressure. I feel as though I am just one minor representative of the entire movement. Molecular gastronomy is something that I have a lot of passion for and I respect very much. It’s kind of crazy. If I choose to go that route, which I tend to, I’d like to do it justice. I want to do it properly. I got a supportive myspace message from Paul Liebrandt, and I just talked to Albert Adria. I’ve got nothing but respect for all those cats out there. They inspire me. I try to draw inspiration from them. The whole combination of chef/mad scientist is very intriguing to me.

Given what people perceive as overly technical food or weird on your part, what do you consider comfort food?
I’ll get some cabbage and bacon, and braise it. Just really tasty stuff. It could be a grilled cheese sandwich, a BLT, fried chicken, collard greens.

You have a scar over your left eye now- a girl smashed a bottle over your head in Las Vegas?
Yeah. It’s most unfortunate, you know?

Did she say she was sorry?
She just more or less bounced, bolted, left. My friends came over and were like, “What the fuck just happened?”

Everybody, almost overwhelmingly, wants to know what’s up with your hair. You’ve said it’s just olive oil, and it’s used only on occasion. Is that true?
You’re talking about product? I’m not a big fan of the product. I’ve been rocking this style for 5-6 years. I just woke up a few minutes ago, and I’m ready to go. I use shampoo and conditioner. Olive oil- when the weather changes, yeah sure, I’ll use a drop.

There are a lot of theories out there about the hair clipper incident, when the rest of the final five tried to shave your head one night.
Oh- the conspiracy theory about how Bravo decided to flip it and reverse it. There’s no conspiracy theory. They reversed the order of operations- that’s not how everything went down.

Their heads were shaved before they went after you?
It makes more sense that way, but that’s not how it went.

Wait- Did Ilan and Elia shave their heads after Cliff held you down?
They tried to shave my head first. Then they went and shaved theirs. That’s reality television for you.

Are you going to be reunited with the rest of the cast in New York?
Ilan’s such a weird character. That guy calls me like every other day. I’m like, what are you calling me for? He leaves me messages- “Hey Marcel, its Ilan, just wanted call and see how you’re doing, and when you come by here I want to hang out.” I’m like, I’ll see you when I see you- I don’t want to hang out- I don’t want to have lunch with you. When I watch the show now and see him behind my back, like sticking his tongue out, or talking all this shit in the interview rooms- they’re not my companions; they’re my competitors.

You’re working on a restaurant concept called Vicarious. What’s that all about?
Obviously that’s the dream, to become the chef and have your own place. For right now, I don’t think so. I’m definitely working on the concept, and hopefully it will be a dual restaurant- similar to what they do at Café Atlantico, how they have a spot for experimental food at Mini Bar, and a space for fine dining. I don’t want to get pigeonholed serving one type of food.

I read an interview where you said you’d like to cook for William Grimes, the former food critic for the New York Times. That’s an interesting choice.
It’s very true. I have the utmost respect for William Grimes- to cook for a food critic of his status- that would be really cool. The guy’s a living legend. I’m very serious about this. It’s always been about the food for me.

The finale of Top Chef’s second season airs tonight on Bravo, with a recap of last week's first part, starting at 9 PM. Every episode of season two will be played in consecutive order, starting at 10 AM.