We interview the latest winner! Giant photo spoiler after the jump.
You’re the first female Top Chef. Is that a big deal?
Going through all of my training and becoming a chef, line-cooking and stuff, I always looked at it as being good at what I do. Not good for being a female; just good at being a chef. It’s great to have a female winning it, but it’s so strange: It’s never been something I gave that much thought to.
How did you celebrate your win?
I went out with a bunch of friends last night. I walked into a bar in Chicago, and there were 100 people cheering. I wish people hadn’t been buying me shots, but it was great.
Were Richard and Lisa the season’s biggest competition?
From the minute we started, Richard was going to be in the finals. The whole country was surprised at first that Lisa was there, but watching last night’s episode and having been in Puerto Rico with her, she really brought her game there. She really is talented. She shocked everyone by making it to the finals, but it turns out she really did belong there.
Was Richard’s stumble in the finals a surprise?
Yeah, it was weird. While we were actually in Puerto Rico, I didn’t really see everyone’s dishes and see what was going on. I know that Richard can do better food than he did last night, and he’s very talented. I don’t know exactly what happened; I was surprised.
Was it wise of him to tell the judges he choked?
When that came out of his mouth, I respected him 100 percent. He knew how his dishes went; chefs just know when they’re not doing their best. I have the utmost respect for him for being so honest.
Well, you can’t feel too bad for him. He’s won a new car! And he’s got a baby!
It’s true! Richard’s going to be fine.
Was it fun being Eric Ripert’s boss?
It was a little weird. I was totally hovering over him. I made a joke to the judges that I had to go back and recut his fish. Eric Ripert is amazing, but at the same time I have my own style. I wanted to make sure he was doing things the way that I wanted.
Was there any point in the season where you were convinced you were going to be eliminated?
The only time that I was really nervous was that kids’ challenge. I know when I don’t put my best foot forward, and it definitely wasn’t my best dish.
What are your plans for the $100,000 prize?
I am going to pay off credit-card bills. I’m definitely working on opening another restaurant in Chicago. I’m not going to push to get it open too quickly, but hopefully next spring.
Will you continue traveling?
Actually, I’m not. I was going to go down to Peru and do Machu Picchu, but I’ve taken ten months off. It’s time to get some work done.
But you won two trips on the show, to Barcelona and Paris.
Right, I did! I almost forgot about that! I’ve never actually been to Europe, which is crazy for any chef to say. I saw José Andrés the other night, and I was like, “Hook me up with some good restaurants.”
You were at Daniel Boulud’s table at Florent Friday night. Did you have fun?
That was crazy. I just busted out my camera. I couldn’t believe Daniel Boulud was sitting there having a drink with me. The sun started rising, and Daniel Boulud was right there.
Are you a fan of the Glad family of products?
I actually am. I’ve been doing some catering out of my house, and I use the containers all the time. I have a whole cabinet devoted to my GladWare. I’m hoping that I’ll get a free lifetime supply. They’re not cheap!
—Michael Alan Connelly