Buddha Lo discusses his Top Chef success, why he returned, and a chef’s adaptability, interview

TOP CHEF -- "Fin" Episode 2014 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tom Colicchio, Buddha Lo -- (Photo by: Fred Jagueneau/Bravo)
TOP CHEF -- "Fin" Episode 2014 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tom Colicchio, Buddha Lo -- (Photo by: Fred Jagueneau/Bravo) /

When Top Chef Season 20 announced the list of returning cheftestants, many people were surprised that Season 19 winner Buddha Lo was packing his knives for another challenge. While his technique driven dishes received rave reviews from the judges, it was more than just an opportunity to be crowned Top Chef World All-Stars winner. For Buddha, that desire to cook again compelled him to take this opportunity.

Buddha has impressed Top Chef fans time and again. As seen in Top Chef Season 20, the celebrated chef had more wins that another other cheftestant. It was clearly an impressive season. Even if every dish was stunning, it was more than technique. There was ingenuity and application of the brief that earned each win, and the Top Chef World All-Stars title.

During a recent conversation with Buddha, he shared with FoodSided that moment when Top Chef Season 19 wrapped. Even though he heard those coveted words, “Top Chef winner,” Buddha felt that he had more to show.

Commenting about his final dish in Season 19, he said, “the fact that I was looking at the dish and I was feeling really sad. I really enjoyed being on the show and the competition.”

Buddha Lo on Top Chef Season 20
TOP CHEF — “Fin” Episode 2014 — Pictured: (l-r) Ali Al Ghzawi, Buddha Lo — (Photo by: Fred Jagueneau/Bravo) /

Although winners had never come back to compete again, Top Chef World All-Stars changed that scenario and Buddha jumped at the chance to cook again. He said, “I feel that this is the ultimate cooking competition, where it challenges you in so many different ways.” With the support of his wife, he put everything else on hold, packed up his knives, and headed back into the Top Chef kitchen.

While viewers look at each challenge in awe, the cheftestants might see those themes and ingredients in a different way. Whether it was the Quickfire challenge or the Elimination round, Buddha found a way to put a great dish in front of the judges. For him, it really came down to the simple idea of what he has done in a kitchen time again.

Buddha shared that he has been in many restaurants where you have limited time to cook for a large group, pivot for a particular guests’ food needs, or a variety of other bumps in the road. As a chef, “we’re constantly dealing with quick fires.”

“When someone walks in unannounced and they’re gluten, dairy free, vegan or cannot have nuts, we do not want to give them a subpar dish. That is unacceptable. We need to make sure that their dish is just as good as the person who is sitting next to them. All of those challenges come into the Top Chef realm. It is time to put on your thinking cap and go for it. Those are the sort of things that I love to do.”

Although Buddha seemed to have an answer in his bag of tricks for almost any challenge on Top Chef Season 20, he understood that he could not stand alone. In a lighthearted moment, he joked that he might have taken the lead with the Wellington challenge, but he would not have had the same role if the dish involved a mole. Understanding his strengths and weakness was key to putting his best dishes on the Judges’ table.

Even though there is something about prevailing over his peers, the real reason that compelled Buddha to return to Top Chef was the opportunity to cook and challenge himself every day. At this point in his culinary career, the other items of being a “chef” can take over from cooking. From logistics to personnel matters, the business of cooking can take time away the one aspect that earned him all those accolades. By returning to Top Chef, it was a chance to cook, push himself, and celebrate the skill that has earned him much praise.

Although Buddha Lo might not compete again on Top Chef, he has earned a spot in the show’s history that makes him unique. As one of the program’s superfans, he appreciates that uniqueness and hopefully he will return in some capacity. For now, many people will be booking a reservation at his restaurant, Marky’s Caviar, Huso restaurant in New York City.