‘Top Chef’ Season 20 Winner Speaks Out After Conquering ‘World All-Stars’

Top Chef World All-Stars
Spoiler Alert
Bravo TV

[Warning: The below contains major spoilers for Bravo’s Top Chef: World All-Stars finale.]

Bravo’s Top Chef served authentic international flavor for its milestone season 20 with Top Chef World All-Stars. In all, 16 of the top winners and finalists from numerous global versions of the show were welcomed to London. The pressure cooker of Quickfires and elimination challenges across the region led to a grand finale in Paris.

It was there Buddha Lo (season 19 Bravo’s Top Chef: Houston winner), Sara Bradley (season 16 Bravo’s Top Chef: Kentucky finalist), and Gabri Rodriguez (season 2 Top Chef: Mexico winner) were tasked to cook a progressive four-course meal. They not only had to impress  Padma Lakshmi, head judge Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons but guest judge Hélène Darroze and a table full of other culinary heavyweights.

After deliberation, Lo, who had recently eliminated Ali Ghzawi as his sous-chef, was named the first Top Chef World All-Star. He won over the expert foodies by showcasing his technical prowess and cultural individuality starting with rainbow trout and ending with coconut, raspberry, and chocolate lamington. The Aussie took home $250,000, earned a feature in Food & Wine, and an appearance at the 40th annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. We caught up with the back-to-back champ-champ to talk about his milestone victory.

Top Chef World All-Stars Finale

Fred Jagueneau/Bravo

How does this win compare to your last one?

Buddha Lo: I feel like the last time we spoke I was a bit empty from the season. I didn’t feel I was done yet. I even said in the finale that I felt I had so many dishes in my arsenal that I hadn’t even pulled out yet. I wasn’t done thanks to season 20. It’s where I really stepped up my game as it pushed me to the limit and continued the journey. Something I wasn’t fulfilled about when I finished season 19. I can now say with season 20 I feel like I’ve done what I needed to do.

Top Chef - Season 20

Fred Jagueneau/Bravo

What do you think gave you the edge? I feel it came down to presentation.

Everything I did in the competition I looked at every facet of how I would be judged. I know what my strengths are. If I tried to make a really good dish compared to Gabri and Sara, it wouldn’t be enough just looking at the flavor. You have to have a presentation, creativity, and a story. Those are the points you want to look at on a scorecard. So it was me looking at it all.

Hélène was the finale guest judge. someone you were a fan of. You even stopped on the street for a photo during a past meeting. Was that added pressure knowing she had a hand in deciding your fate?

I felt the pressure of everything. I felt my whole body go numb when I heard who would be sitting at the table. Each one of the guests, if you had them on a future reservation, you wouldn’t be able to sleep for two weeks thinking about it. Especially, if you’re going for a Michelin star when the president of Michelin comes into the restaurant. It was a daunting task. I saw Hélène there at the Union Square Market. I chased her down for a photo. And at that point someone then actually asked me for a photo. That was so weird. I think that was two episodes before the finale.

Padma got emotional after the dinner. News came out recently that this was her last season. How was it getting to know her?

She shed a tear at one point. She saw my journey and was extremely proud where I came from and how I represented the Top Chef U.S. franchise as well. I think it was a very emotional episode because we know it was Padma’s last. But what a way to go out and be able to see this thing that she helped grow. She was an integral part to the success of the show and how it has reached different parts of the world.


What’s the plan now that you are $250,000 richer?

The plan is to have a family for sure. We want to open a restaurant in New York. We’re on track for that. I just need to get a kitchen. I’ve put this kitchen restaurant on hold for so long. We’re going to get there.

What do you take from your experience? What does this accomplishment mean to you?

Everything happens for a reason. It was a weird moment I experienced last year. There is even a video someone took of me walking into the Tucson desert after my win, maybe five minutes after I won Top Chef. I took a moment to myself and looked at the stars. I couldn’t feel anything but thought it was what my dad would want. I thought I might bask in the moment. Then this dream happened and look where it got me again. Everything happens for a reason. I really felt it this time. It was the end of a chapter. I was so happy because this was the road I was supposed to go on. It was so moving. I believe that my role as a chef at this level is to nurture the future generation of cooking. The kitchens are getting better, but I feel with this platform I will be able to have the role model where  I can be to speak to future chefs. I hope to change the industry. I’ve been cooking since I was 12 years old and loved every minute of it. I really want to encourage someone who also loves it and wants to put in the work to get to this stage. I want to be that example.