“Top Chef”: Buddha Lo’s Final Recap Reveals Why the Finale Is ‘One of the Easier Challenges’

Two-time champ Buddha Lo shares fascinating background information on the 'Top Chef' final cook between Danny Garcia, Dan Jacobs and Savannah Miller

<p>Greg Pace/Shutterstock; David Moir/Bravo</p> Buddha Lo; Dan Jacobs, Savannah Miller, Danny Garcia

Greg Pace/Shutterstock; David Moir/Bravo

Buddha Lo; Dan Jacobs, Savannah Miller, Danny Garcia

Buddha Lo is a two-time Top Chef winner, executive chef at Hūso in New York City, and a Saratoga Spring Water brand ambassador. He is sharing his thoughts after each episode of Top Chef season 21, set in Wisconsin, offering a unique perspective as a former cheftestant.

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

This is it, the finale of Top Chef 21! The way to describe the feeling of making it to the finale is like making it into the Super Bowl. There is no other cooking competition like this. Making it to the finale was my goal in both seasons I competed. Being the last one standing, in front of incredible chefs having lived out the whole story of the season, is where I wanted to be.

Ironically, the finale to me is one of the easier challenges of Top Chef. Here’s why: The finale challenge allows the chefs to prepare and organize ahead of time. Here’s some inside scoop on how the finale works. A couple of weeks prior, each chef can choose up to five ingredients (up to $500 worth) and the Top Chef culinary producers will source them from literally any part of the world. This was how Gabri Rodriguez was able to get grasshoppers in Paris last season!

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Top Chef finalists

David Moir/Bravo

Top Chef finalists

The chefs are also continuously reminded that they should start thinking about a four-course progressive menu even though they may not make it into the finale. If the finalists are lucky enough to get a decent break between the original location and the finale, they can practice their dishes over and over again. Given all of that, I can safely say that this is one of the easier challenges on Top Chef.

However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to win. You still must cook the best food you have ever cooked in your career, and you only have one shot at it. In both seasons I said to myself that if I were 100% happy with everything I served and lost in the finale, I would be happy with the results, because that would mean I got out cooked by a better chef. The heartbreak comes from making it to the end, being able to cook your food without any parameters, and making technical errors.

Related: Top Chef Recap: Buddha Lo Recognizes Those Reactions from the Judges: 'Not Good'

The final three now have the chance for the ultimate prize of being the next Top Chef, a prestigious title that only 19 chefs in the country have achieved.

The chefs had to draw knives to determine the order of picking their sous chefs. Dan chose Amanda, Danny picked Manny and Savannah selected Michelle. When picking a sous chef for the finale there must be chemistry, but there is a line to be drawn remembering that everything served must be the finalist’s decision and cook, not the sous chef’s ideas or choice.

Prime example of an amazing sous chef was Jackson Kalb from season 19. Even though he couldn’t taste or smell the whole season of Top Chef Houston, it didn’t matter. I didn’t need him to taste my food. There was no way any food would leave the kitchen that I hadn't tasted before serving it to the judges.

The chefs all hit the ground running with their menus, and I always find it interesting how chefs in the finale conceptualize their menus. In the season 19 finale, I told the judges that this was not the best meal of my life, and their jaws dropped. My intention was to hope I had more opportunities in the future to create a menu far greater than what I produced that season.

What I created was not the best meal of my life, but it was dedicated to the best people in my life (my family). Similar to that, I loved that the final chefs tried to also include a story with their menus rather than just cook whatever they felt in the moment.

Related: Top Chef's Buddha Lo Brings His Twin Girls to the Belmont Stakes — See the Adorable Photos

Savannah decided to tell a story about her journey, her history and the places that inspired her food memories. Danny told a story of his significant food memories while highlighting the ocean and seafood. Dan’s concept was to show who he was on Top Chef.

In the finale, you have to go into the cook knowing that everyone is going to bring their A-game in the flavor department. The way to separate yourself in the from the other chefs is technique, presentation, creativity and story.

The chefs get cooking, and while most of their cooking went well, there were some hiccups, and it always makes me wonder why. This is the first time in the competition that chefs can cook their own food, so unless a chef is still trying to discover who they are as a chef, this cook should be pretty flawless to execute.

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Kristen Kish, Danny Garcia, Emeril Lagasse, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons

David Moir/Bravo

Kristen Kish, Danny Garcia, Emeril Lagasse, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons

The chefs go to the judges' table for feedback on their dishes after each course, and this is the rare time when they get feedback while still cooking. In my two seasons, I had my hand behind my back at the judges' table. That's because I would keep score of which courses I think I won to see if I won before they discussed who should win.

I believe that although the judges said Danny's first dish needed some salt, they also said it was close to perfect, and that is a critique that is hard to beat, so the first course went to Danny. The second course was very close, but I would say that Dan won the second course, with Danny coming in very close. In my opinion, Savannah's pasta course pretty much took her out of the running. Overcooked lobster and undercooked pasta is a dish that you don't want to be serving to the judges when they expect perfection. All you can do is pray that both chefs have a disaster in their other courses, but that wasn’t the case.

Related: Top Chef Winner Speaks Out After Nail-Biter Finale: 'There Were Mistakes but... I Was Able to Pivot' (Exclusive)

The third course was close, and I would say that Dan and Danny tied on this course. Although Danny’s dish was beautiful and tasted amazing, a few of the judges questioned the cooking on the lobster, whereas Dan went for more of a simple and safe approach, which also earned him some praise. Savannah’s third course took her out of the running to be Top Chef. Tom called her mofongo “mofong-no.” She made it to the finale, which is an amazing feat in itself.

The fourth course went to Danny all around. The judges loved this dish, and Tom could not stop talking about it. Dan and Savannah produced desserts that the judges enjoyed, but not to the level Danny produced. It ticked all the boxes.

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Danny Garcia wins Top Chef season 21

David Moir/Bravo

Danny Garcia wins Top Chef season 21

So there we have it, we have a new Top Chef crowned: Danny Garcia! With the most elimination wins, wins in total, only one bottom finish, we have another brilliant chef that will join the prestigious Top Chef Dub Club.

Thank you all for following my recaps. It's been a blast to be able to give you my insight and point of view as a previous contestant and two-time Top Chef winner.

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