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Light spoilers below for anyone who hasn't yet watched the Top Chef Colorado finale.
Hearing Padma Lakshmi say to pack one's knives is the worst for a Top Chef contestant, even knowing there's a potential safety net with Last Chance Kitchen. And it was definitely a tough situation for Chicago native Joe Flamm when he had to depart the flagship series in order to fight his way back into the competition. CinemaBlend recently spoke with Chef Joe, who left the show a champion, and I asked whether Top Chef or Last Chance Kitchen was more hectic and hair-raising for him. In his words:
I think the show itself is really hair-raising, and Last Chance Kitchen is a different type of stress, because it's just short bursts of, like, 'Okay, here we go, and it's like all or nothing right now. All or nothing.' And so it's like you almost don't have enough. The problem with the show is you go into an elimination challenge and you almost have too much time. When you're going to bed the night before, you're laying in a bunk bed in a house with a bunch of weird people, like, 'Oh shit, what am I cooking tomorrow? What am I doing? Maybe that dish is a terrible idea!' You get in your own head and you drive yourself insane. But Last Chance Kitchen is just kind of a street fight. You're just reacting. It's like muscle memory.
As someone who tends to work best when the pressure is on and time is fleeting, I can easily understand how being thrown into the fire for Last Chance Kitchen would have its own advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, LCK relies on culinary instincts and natural abilities, and there's no time to create any overly complicated plans, nor time to second-guess very many ideas. Like a street fight, Last Chance Kitchen is a situation where not starting strong and smart is a recipe for disaster. And much as it was portrayed on the web segments, Joe Flamm had no clue who he'd be competing against until the final minutes before the LCK timeclock started up.
On Top Chef proper, though, there was less of that particular stress going into the Elimination Challenges. Now, LCK does share some similarities with the Quickfire Challenges, but since those generally don't end in someone going home, they're not quite as maddening to dive into. Of course, Joe Flamm actually did go home during a Quickfire, as he'd faced chefs Joe Sasto And Chris Scott in a Sudden Death Cook-Off, and lost. Still, though, there's something to be said about going up against one specific chef for one specific judge, as opposed to battling 2-15 of them for a handful of different critics.
During our chat, Joe Flamm did talk about getting eliminated, and how it presented him with a strange, albeit temporary, sense of relief.
Yeah, you know, you get kicked off, and you go through this roller coaster of emotions, and you're exhausted, you're drained. The show is really, really physically tolling. You're going 15,16,17 hours a day non-stop for a couple of months. So you get kicked off, and it's like, okay, I'm exhausted. And there's part of you that's like, 'I could totally be done with this. I had a good run and I did my thing. I'm done with this stress monster that has been my life for this time.' But then you get back in the kitchen, and once you start cooking, and it's like, 'Okay, we're on again. Here we go.' Then all that adrenaline flows back, and you're just like, 'I'm in this.'
You can't keep a Bear's Den chef down, people! True to those words, Joe ended up excelling in all of his Last Chance Kitchen rounds, he won the first elimination challenge upon returning to the main show, and then made it to the Season 15 finale with the awesome Adrienne Cheatham. There, he cooked his ass off and took home the gold, so anytime anyone has doubts about the effect that Last Chance Kitchen can have on the overall Top Chef competition, just remember Joe Flamm. And when you want some good sticky licky wings or roasted duck, also remember Joe Flamm.
With Top Chef Colorado now just a mile-high memory, fans can expect for Bravo's next batch of culinary hopefuls to travel east for Top Chef Kentucky, so we'll probably be seeing some barbecue and burgoo, and maybe some fried chicken? Maybe not. In the meantime, though, head to our midseason premiere schedule to see all the new and returning shows on the way.