Who will win Top Chef this season? That’s the question on the minds of the Bravo show’s devotees as they await tonight’s final episode, which airs at 9 p.m. Either Mei Lin, the sous chef at ink. restaurant in Los Angeles, or Gregory Gourdet, the executive chef at Portland, Oregon’s pan-Asian restaurant Departure, will take home the title.
Even though Lin works with former Top Chef contestant Michael Voltaggio, she didn’t get any tips from him. “At first, I was like, ‘Really? You’re not going to give me anything?’” she told us. “But as we got into the competition, I was really glad he didn’t give anything away.” Plus, she said, each season involves such a new set of challenges; her experience in Boston and then Mexico for the finale episodes was so different from Voltaggio’s.
Gourdet, who is a triathlete and a Bikram yoga devotee, said he didn’t really have time to keep up his workout routine during the eight weeks of filming the show. “The first week I did, but I was so stressed during shooting,” he said. “I call it the Top Chef fifteen.”
He looked pretty trim to us when we sat down together this morning, though. Here are some other things we learned about Gourdet and Lin, including their plans for what they’d do with that cash prize should they win it.
Lin faces the judges’ table
Once you knew you were going to be on the show, how did you prepare?
Gourdet: I watched every episode I could squeeze in from season six on. Basically went over every greatest hit I’ve ever had and wrote down the recipes so I could memorize them. I studied Boston history, Boston chefs and restaurants, iconic Boston cuisine. And I created menus so I could grab from those when coming up with dishes in challenges.
Lin: I had watched previous seasons before. I definitely stayed at work after hours and had other employees time me on making dishes—running into the walk-in, grabbing whatever—doing a mini-challenge. They found it amusing. I’m sure they have it all on video.
How would you describe your food coming into the show, and how would you describe your food now that it’s over?
Gourdet: I create modern Asian cuisine, or cuisine that borrows flavors of Asia with some modern technique, using local product from wherever I am. [The show] opened me up to wanting to learn about other cultures. We had to cook Italian, we went to Mexico—it opened me up to more cuisines that I could find interesting, and made me want to learn more and apply new cooking techniques to my food.
Lin: I’m a pretty global chef. I like to draw inspiration from a certain dish and be playful and recreate it; a play on dishes you would already know. And I think I’m still me, I just kind of like to think a lot more about it. But [my cooking] is still very true to what I’ve always been doing.
Gourdet scrambles during a season 12 challenge
What moment of season 12 were you most proud of?
Gourdet: We both wanted to win so badly that any small victory was kind of expected. We really wanted to get all the way to the end.
Lin: If you win and get overly excited, maybe get more egotistical… There’s no time for that. The next day or challenge is a new slate. You don’t get judged on past challenges; every day you start fresh. So winning a challenge is crossing something off a checklist; immediately following that is a new one.
Gourdet: That said, some challenges were harder than others. Winning something like restaurant wars, which is so grueling, like Mei’s team did, is a huge accomplishment. So there were victories that we were extremely proud of at the time.
What is your biggest regret?
Gourdet: I was struggling to get out of Boston [and on to the finale episodes in Mexico]. The judges’ criticism was hard to hear, but it was true: I was playing it safe. At the end of the day, it’s about making delicious food and that’s what I decided to do that day: just make delicious food.
Lin: For a few challenges, I was up and down. It was hard in a lot of different ways, and it can be hard to get your spirits back up. But my head was in the game.
What will you do if you win?
Lin: Pay bills, I guess! No, just act smart and be humble. There are different opportunities that will come our ways no matter who wins.
Gourdet: It was such a crazy ride that we’re just ready for this last chapter to close. Now it’s just about taking a breath and then seeing what happens over the course of the next few months.
Lin and Gourdet have become close through shooting Top Chef
How has Top Chef changed the game for young chefs?
Gourdet: It’s extremely challenging to be put in these situations and have to cook your way out of them. The amazing feedback you get from talented palates throughout the season is really a gift. It’s great to get you thinking, and push you in ways you’ve never been pushed before.
Lin: The show has changed so many lives. Win or not, you’re gonna be placed on the map. There are so many viewers who watch the show, from the housewife to other chefs. The show has done a lot to help people’s careers.
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