Top Chef just wrapped up its 14th season — has it really been that long since we started watching?! And after the finale (SPOILER ALERT), we caught up with winner Brooke Williamson and finalist Shirley Chung to talk about what really happens when the cameras are off, their favorite dishes of the season, and their advice for kitchen newbies. Here are five things we learned from our chat. Plus check out our R29 Quickfire Challenge with Brooke and Shirley, below.
1. You know all that amazing food the contestants are cooking? They're not eating it!
Despite the fact that the chefs are always cooking top-notch food, their actual diets are not made up of anything you’d ever see featured on the show. Brooke and Shirley explained that because they didn’t have a whole lot of time, their eating habits were very grab-and-go. Shirley pretty much lived off of Cup of Noodles and bananas while Brooke’s go-to eats were Cup of Noodles and avocados. The chefs would also, “start a pot of rice in the rice cooker in the morning,” Shirley explained. That way they at least had some semi-prepared food to come home to. Both chefs also mentioned that when they had more time, the contestants would cook better food for each other, but that was a much rarer occurrence.
2. When the cameras are away, the Cheftestants will play.
Cheftestants have strict rules about what they're allowed to do during the filming of the show. They don't get access to the internet and have limited communication with family back home. Brooke and Shirley shared that they also weren't allowed to leave their house in Charleston unless it was part of a Top Chef challenge or a planned outing. But, apparently that didn't stop the chefs from sneaking out like they were back in high school. "We snuck out to the beach at 1am and went night swimming," Shirley said, laughing. They even had some people stay behind and stand guard so they wouldn't get caught. Brooke also shared that the entire house watched The Notebook together. We have to admit, we kind of wish both of those events had been caught on camera.
3. Both Brooke and Shirley felt they cooked some of their best food of the season in the finale.
Brooke told R29 that her two favorite dishes of the season were the octopus she made in the finale and her radish dessert dish from episode 3. "I surprised myself in being able to create dessert that highlighted radishes and still tasted good," she said. (Her winning radish dessert was purple daikon panna cotta with sour pineapple curd, white chocolate pop rocks, and pineapple black radish juice.)
For Shirley, it was all about her finale dishes, which she said embodied how she, "cooks with love and soul."
4. Both chefs had great advice for people who are newer to cooking.
Brooke: "Stay simple and work with flavors that inspire you and that you love to begin with. Cook with fresh ingredients that inspired your taste buds."
Shirley: "Don’t be afraid. Food is fun, and there's no such thing as making a mistake."