Top Chef season-two winner Ilan Hall made his culinary mark by fusing contrasting food cultures that are close to his heart. His restaurants in Brooklyn and L.A., the Gorbals, pay homage to his Scottish father and Israeli mother by offering such off-kilter comfort fare as bacon-wrapped matzoh balls. And his show Knife Fight turns the competition-based reality format on its braised-pig ear, giving contestants few rules and offering no prize other than bragging rights. In his interpretation of Pop Shots, Hall creates an erotic landscape with model Masuimi Max that pays tribute to his wife and partner. We should all be so lucky.
Have you ever done anything like this before?
Never in my life.
Was there any hesitation? Was this the type of opportunity that you had to talk yourself into?
No. I’m pretty open. I’m not afraid of nudity. I’ve viewed my fair share of naked photos, so it actually was … I was a little nervous leading up to it—not nervous, I just didn’t know what to expect, and it was lovely. All the people, the whole crew was great. Masuimi was great. I had a good time.
How was it, being on-set for a Penthouse photo shoot?
Going at it from a seven-year-old’s perspective, which is when I really first started to care about boobies, there is that little kid inside of you who’s like, Oh, my God. I’m actually going to be directing a woman who is going to be naked? There was a little bit of that. But once you’re on-set, everybody’s so professional that those thoughts just completely dissolve. Not in a bad way. Just in the sense that this is a job. I took it as a job, everyone else who was working there took it as a job, and Masuimi took it as a job. Everybody was so professional and so organized that it was a different experience from what many would think. Directing a woman in various scenes and poses minus her clothes is not a sexually charged experience.
What was the inspiration or story behind you selecting Masuimi as your model?
I wanted to emulate elements of my wife. I wanted to bring in elements of why I think she’s beautiful and how much I love her. To have her be a part of this.
And Masuimi is a precise representation of your wife?
No, not at all. My wife can’t be replicated. But there were elements of inspiration within Masuimi that I love and wanted to express visually.
What were these elements of inspiration?
My wife is half Asian. Masuimi is half Asian. My wife has big, full, beautiful lips, as does Masuimi. And then I just wanted to express more of my wife’s fun and playful side.
Well, my wife has a lot of tattoos. It’s a part of her that I think is beautiful.
So does your wife also have really big boobs, or was that just a happy accident?[Laughs] I have no—what’s the word? I have no prejudice against any type of breasts. My wife has beautiful breasts. Masuimi’s are significantly larger. They’re surprisingly large for how small she is.
What do you find to be the hottest thing about your wife? What were you really trying to share?
My wife’s personality is what I love the most, and I wanted a representation of when we first met: how fun she is and how silly she can be. I fell in love with her over a joke, and I feel like that’s important. Humor in a relationship keeps it sane. I wanted the shoot to reflect the personality of who I fell in love with and why I fell in love with her.
Masuimi really seemed to open up when you told her to get a little loose.
Totally. Because Masuimi is a goofball, in a good way. My life is injected with humor, and I feel like you can’t take yourself too seriously—especially on a shoot with a woman who is naked most of the time. It’s fun, and it’s funny, and I think that is important to express.
How did the setting play into the story you wanted to tell?
I wanted to be in a beautiful house with a beautiful view (even though we didn’t actually use any of the view). But I wanted it to be a really pretty backdrop to a really fun event. I have a certain style and aesthetic for how I like a home. The same is true for my wife. I love mid-century architecture, and the house was just that. It had a lot of outdoor space, and it had a pool, and a beautiful view, and it had a fire pit. These are all visual elements that I love.
You were pretty particular about wardrobe as well.
Yeah. I wanted it to be sort of loose bedroom stuff, like a tank top and underwear. Not too overtly sexy, but sexy because it’s on her.
I like how you tapped into the fantasy about the strong, powerful woman who reveals her softer, sexier side behind closed doors.[Silence]
Or maybe that’s just a fantasy I have and I’m projecting it onto you and your shoot.
My wife is incredibly successful on her own. I met her when she was already completely self-made. And it’s not even really a fantasy for me. [For] my entire life, I have had very strong women as role models, and I feel comfortable when I’m with a woman who has her own opinions. Who does not need me financially. Who is my partner rather than my property.
Is there a picture, or a scene, or a moment from the shoot that stands out to you?
I think my favorite setup was in the bedroom, because it felt like it was the most natural. It felt like the least sort of done-up in terms of.… My wife goes to work early in the morning. My son comes into our room early in the morning. So I feel like being in a bedroom—not even in a sexual way—is like being in my comfort zone in my house. So this was kind of an extension of that.
Man, I would have sworn your favorite setup was when Tammy was taking your picture in front of the fire pit. It felt like we woke up a sleeping bear.
That was my favorite scene because I do like getting sexy in front of the camera, you know.
Do you have a favorite body part?
Yes. I love my calves.
Do you have a favorite body part on a woman?
Yes. I like legs. They are very important. Masuimi has beautiful legs.
Anything jump out at you on-set as being surprisingly hot or erotic?
Yeah. Not that it was startling to me, but the best parts of the shoot were the photos that were loose and fun, when it was not too serious. Being naked and being at home should be a celebration. It should be fun. I think the fire-pit stuff was fun because when we were all laughing, the best things came out. I like the weird, silly pictures of Masuimi just smiling. I like the office ones. They’re nice and they’re beautiful shots, but they are not that fun.
Did you hold anything back?
No, I was just sort of rolling with it to see where it took us. It was a new experience for me, and I didn’t really know how it was going to go, so I just let it become what it was going to be.
In hindsight, do you wish you had done anything differently?
No. I live my life with no regrets.
That’s a pretty bold statement.
It’s true though. Listen, I try to do my best as a person, as a businessman, as a husband. I put a lot of effort into elements of my life and I learn from everything. I make mistakes, but I can’t be mad at the fact that I’ve made mistakes because I’m a human being. So, with that, I try to live my life with no regrets. I mean, I don’t like offending people. I don’t feel good about it if I say something offensive. I don’t say, “Fuck it. It happened.” But to a certain degree, you can’t kill yourself over the past. So there.
Did the shoot and the pictures meet your expectations?
I go into situations that are new to me with no expectations. And this was fun. It was great.
Sure, but seeing the photos—
It was a successful photo shoot, Raphie.
Are you giving me attitude?[Laughs] You’re such a shitty interviewer.
I’m putting that in your article.[Laughs] Put in whatever you want!
But seriously, Ilan, you know I’m just—
Don’t you dare apologize to me, Raphie Aronowitz.