As three chefs battle to hear Padma Lakshmi say, “you are Top Chef,” the Top Chef Season 19 finalists spoke to FoodSided ahead of the season finale. While Buddha, Evelyn and Sarah recalled the culinary competition fondly, one challenge might have revealed the top contenders. Or, at least told the other chefs who they needed to beat.
Certain Top Chef challenges have been part of the food television lore. For example, the mise en place challenge has given solace to any home cook that even the profession chef can falter in breaking down an artichoke or shucking an oyster.
Usually, the most anticipated challenge of the season is Restaurant Wars. Although opening a traditional restaurant takes months or years of preparation, these cheftestants tackle menu planning, décor and opening night faster than a sous vided short rib.
During FoodSided’s conversation with the Top Chef Season 19 finalists, we asked whether any of them had hoped, anticipated or wondered if they would be standing on the pinnacle of Top Chef glory. While Sarah took a different path to the finale via Last Chance Kitchen, Buddha and Evelyn both commented that one challenge seemed to mark a few chefs as top contenders.
Specifically, Buddha believed that all the chefs who were in contention started to pull ahead right before Restaurant Wars. He continued to clarify that going into Restaurant Wars put Evelyn and Jackson as top contenders.
Even though Jackson later revealed that he had lost his sense of taste and smell, his creativity and precision were characteristics that many former finalists had. Still, Evelyn seemed to offer the emotional connection to both the heart of the challenges and the host location.
For Evelyn, she saw Restaurant Wars as a defining moment, too. She picked Buddha as a strong pick for a finalist. From the artistic plating to the intricate details, it was clear that he was pushing himself to earn the title.
In many ways, that Restaurant Wars turning point seems to be a commonality across Top Chef seasons. Whether it is a favorite chef making a mis-step leading to elimination or another chef proving that she can man the pass with authority, that classic challenge blends the culinary competition bubble with the chefs’ real world reality.
As the chefs chatted, the goal of making the finale or earning the title wasn’t part of the mindset at the start of the competition. Each chef looked at each challenge as another stepping stone. Whether it was Sarah who hoped to outlast other Michigan chefs to Evelyn who wanted to do her city of Houston proud, it was about meeting each cook with enthusiasm, creativity and execution.
It has been said many times that each chef is only as good as their last cook. Although the judges might want to see the chef on the plate, they can only judge the plate sitting on the table. Years of honing that craft comes down to a few bites for Top Chef glory.
Whether these Top Chef Season 19 finalists manifested their place at the final table or fought their way to culinary excellence, the Top Chef Houston season has been an impressive one. Whoever earns the title will deserve it.