'Top Chef: Wisconsin' Finalists Dan Jacobs, Danny Garcia, and Savannah Miller Recap Their Highs and Lows

Top Chef is back in the kitchen! Every week, Parade's Mike Bloom interviews the latest chef told to pack their knives and leave Wisconsin.

Top Chef: Wisconsin brought a slew of changes to the Emmy-winning cooking competition. We saw a new location in Wisconsin, a new host in Kristen Kish, and even a new twist that changed Quickfire Challenges forever. But amidst the sea of variables, there stood out three constants: Dan Jacobs, Danny Garcia, and Savannah Miller. Dan was the home state representative, but also put together a solid performance amidst a diagnosis of Kennedy's Disease. New Yorker Danny brought a mixture of heritages and a love of carrots to the plate, earning him the most Elimination Challenge wins of the season. Savannah entered Wisconsin not sure how she'd stack up to the competition, only to hit her stride in the middle of the season to emerge as a frontrunner. With no eliminations left, all that stand between this trio and the Top Chef title is one night, a dining room of judges and culinary elites, and the best meal they've ever cooked.

Read on to hear Dan, Danny, and Savannah's thoughts on their time in the game. The Top Chef: Wisconsin finale airs tonight at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.

Related: Everything You Need to Know About Top Chef Season 20

Dan, you've said that you applied to Top Chef a number of times before getting on. What was the process that led you onto this season?
Dan Jacobs:
 It's funny, because  I tried really hard on my own for a bit. And then I stopped. And then every year, I felt, somebody would reach out and be like, "Hey, do you want to try and do this again?" And be like, "Sure, sure, sure." I've gotten pretty far a couple of times in the in the journey leading up to getting on the show. And this was kind of like the last one. Me and my wife Kate had talked about it. This is going to be the last big try. And if it didn't go through, it didn't go through. We're just going to leave it up to fade a little bit. But everything seemed to work out. And then I remember, right before they told me for sure that I was going to be on the show, they announced it was going to be in Wisconsin. And I remember feeling like, "Oh, man, maybe this is just kismet. Mmaybe this is the moment here. It just felt right." I feel like I've been on their radar for a long time, and it's just finally kind of worked out.

Danny and Savannah, what are your application stories for Top Chef?
Danny Garcia:
 This was my first time applying. Being a chef in a restaurant, kind of taking time to step out and for long periods of time is typically challenging and hard for chefs to do. And just with kind of being in between of of opening the new restaurant, the timing just worked out perfectly for us.
Savannah Miller: I was reached ou via social media. And I think at first it was just very much like, "Ah, what a terrible joke this person is playing on me!" [Laughs.] Because this would be so cool. And I quickly realized that it wasn't. But it was very casual. And, I mean, the process obviously was the same for everybody. But I think for me, I had a lot of feelings of, like, "Man, I wish I could just have a little bit more time before I go and do something like this, because I feel like I could benefit from it." But you just never know if opportunity is going to knock at your door like that again. And so I decided there's no better time than the present.

On that note, you were the most explicit journey of growth over this season, as you've talked about entering Wisconsin not feeling confident in yourself. And we see you really come into your own during the Indigenous challenge. Did you feel that challenge flipped a switch in you, or was it more of a slow build of your confidence up to that point?
 No, I think it was definitely a slow build. And every week there's less and less people. Aand so you're gaining a little bit of confidence from that. But also, I think the biggest thing for me going into it was having a little experience being an executive chef and running a kitchen. Coming off of a year of that and going and doing Top Chef, I mean, I'm still figuring out what my voice and food is. You're getting paid most of the time to put things on the menu that fit somebody else's vision. And while I really have benefited a lot from that experience, I think for me, it was just about being in a zone where I was totally free to explore what I wanted to cook and make decisions that weren't influenced by anybody else. I think just after a few weeks, I started realizing I got confidence in that decision because I was getting good feedback.

Dan, you opened up early on about your Kennedy's Disease. And obviously you knew going in Top Chef would take a toll on you. But how much did the actual physical and mental pressure of the game measure up to what you experienced?
 I mean, I work out with a personal trainer two times a week here in Wisconsin, And we had kind of gone through what I could do with little to no equipment and stretching exercises to do in the morning and to do at night. I mean, I treated this very much like I would a professional sports player would treat how they perform during a game and stuff. I would have to kind of stretch and arm up to get ready for, for, like, whatever the challenge was. And then afterwards I would be stretching and kind of getting my body ready for the next day.

It was intense, you know. And it's tough. None of it was easy. Luckily, we had a great support system. And the other chefs so kind and helpful. And, I mean, [expletive], man, Danny still is. It's hilarious. He's always checking in on me, making sure I'm alright. He's like, "You good? You alright?" Because they don't show it. And I was wondering if there would ever be the montage of my falls. But, I mean, it felt like every challenge, I would trip or fall or whatever. My brain is sharp as a pencil. But sometimes the body doesn't do things the mind wants to do.

Danny, you spoke up a few times this season about your OCD. How tough was it to maintain that level of perfectionism in a competition where you had the pressure of not only so many components, but also getting everything on the plate in time?
 Yeah, I mean, there was definitely a lot of variables, right? And so the way I cook and the way I work is definitely a high level. There's definitely a level of close to perfection. There's definitely a level of attention to detail that I strive for. And so, yeah, there was definitely a scale of how much is too much in these certain moments? Because something we always say in the restaurant is, "Is the guest going to notice? is the guest going to see some of these details?" And sometimes they're not, and sometimes they will. But again, on the show, your food's under a microscope. So what details are they going to see? What was I okay with doing and not doing at certain moments?

As you mentioned before, Dan, you were the "local boy" for the season. Did you feel a pressure to represent Wisconsin? And what were your thoughts on how the show highlighted Wisconsin culture?
Dan: For me, there was the pressure of being the hometown guy and being able to do this in a way that I felt was positive and showcasing who our state really is. And there was a bit of pressure I felt with that, especially being the only "cheftestant" that was from here. But it felt good! I mean--I think that some people were annoyed with it--every challenge, I knew somebody. There was somebody who came in and that, for me, always felt really good. Even at the fish boil or the cheese fest, I'd run into people that I'm actually friends with, and it'd be like, "Oh my God, what's going on out in the real world?" Because you're just completely cut off. That was also really hard, being here in my hometown and being present here, but not being able to participate here in my life, was difficult, because you're just constantly reminded my house is five minutes away.

I want to talk about some relationships you all had on the season. Savannah, Michelle said at one point that you were each other's closest people on the show. Talk to me about that.
Savannah: I think Michelle and I, we kind of bonded early on. I think there was just a moment when there was still a large group of us, and everyone was chatting and buzzing with energy. And I was just having a day where I was like, "I don't really want to talk to anybody right now." We'd been on camera all day, and I was being more quiet. And so was sh. And we immediately locked eyes. And it was like, "I feel like we have a lot in common." And then from there, we spent a lot of time talking about our families. We're both really close to our dads, and so we just had a lot of stuff that felt in common. And then, through the course of the competition, she was just such a strong person to lean on. She is so positive. Even in the bad moments, she's someone who's like, "Look at what we're doing right now. This is so cool." And so, for me, being around positive people was really helpful. I definitely was like, "She's a magnet. I just wanted to be around her."

Danny, you and Rasika formed the "Top Chef 21 Run Club." Talk me through how your relationship grew from morning runs to running through the competition in that Frank Lloyd Wright challenge.
 Yeah, I mean, Rasika was a homie. We were just able to connect on a lot of different bases. Her and I got along really well. She's Indian; my wife is Punjabi. And so there was a lot of things that she would talk about that I was able to connect with  from my family. And so we were able to have that connection, as well as just being able to run. It was just something that she found comfort in doing, and it's something that I love doing. So we were able to kind of put the two together and just go, chop it up and go for some fun runs.

Dan, we saw the tight and unique relationship you built with Amanda. What's your perspective on your dynamic?
 I mean, me and Amanda, it just clicked. But it wasn't just Amanda. I mean, I feel like we all got along really, really well. Especially Savannah and Danny. I mean, these are people I'm gonna be friends with forever. The three of us never will hear the words, "Pack your knives and go." We were together throughout this whole thing. And I think the three of us grew real close. I love Danny like a brother. I love Savannah like a sister. And not just that. We have a very active group chat, and I think we all really get along. It was really a beautiful experience. I came out of this with 13, 14 of the closest people I'm gonna have my while life, the people that I'll share major life events with. And I think that's really, really cool.

Finally, what would say was your high point and low point of the season going into the finale?
 I think I my highest point and lowest point were at the same time. The final challenge before we went to the finale was really challenging for me. I didn't think I was going to actually make it to the finale. There was a lot of mistakes, a lot of technical errors, a lot of things that didn't go right, that I wasn't happy with. I think obviously, as we saw, it ended up working out for me. And so, I think for me mentally during that, cooking was extremely challenging. It was the hardest challenge, and I wasn't having fun. It sucked. But then obviously, coming out on top and winning, solidifying my entry into the finale is definitely gonna be a high moment.
Dan: I mean, I think high has got to be Restaurant Wars. To win as a line cook in Restaurant Wars is almost unheard of. It was super fun. I had a great time cooking. And I always liked the team challenges, because I think those always felt the most like actual restaurant. A restaurant's a team sport, and hat's why I love being in a restaurant. That's why I still love doing this thing called "restaurant." So I think the team challenges were always kind of my favorite. And I'd say low point, baseball for sure. That was a grueling day. It was really hot, but then it's even hotter on the field. And you know that ballpark specifically has no airflow. So you're hot, and there's lots of walking. And everybody knows how much I enjoy walking. My head was in a bad place; it just wasn't a good day. And then to end up on the bottom for the first time, and to possibly go home with a sausage challenge. You know what that's like in Wisconsin? That would have been pretty embarrassing. 
Savannah: I mean, my low is probably just that Judges' Table after the fish boil. It wasn't a great cook, and I think I was just so afraid of it all ending on such a sour note. And then, unfortunately, if it wasn't me, it was going to be one of my two other closest friends, which were Manny and Soo. And so that just didn't feel fun. And as far as a high point, I would say, just, honestly, leaving Wisconsin. Not because of Wisconsin! [Laughs.] Because I was at such a good point, and I had felt so good about it, and then it was like, "Man, now I get to go home and see my family." And I knew I was going to come back, and there was more to do, but it was a nice little chance to refresh. And I was just on a high for sure. So that felt great. I think I got in the car from the airport, and I played "My Way" by Frank Sinatra and put all the windows down.

Next, check out our interview with Laura Ozyilmaz, who was eliminated in Top Chef: Wisconsin Episode 13.