‘Top Chef’ Season 21 Winner Opens Up About Taking Title & What’s Cooking Next

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[Warning: The below contains spoilers for Top Chef Season 21 Finale.]

Say cheese as the winner of Top Chef: Wisconsin has been crowned and is ready for their closeup. The finale came down to Danny Garcia, Dan Jacobs, and Savannah Miller after the three cooked up one last four-course meal aboard Holland America Line’s Eurodam, which docked out of Curacao before heading to Aruba.

These cheftestants had to not only wow the judging panel made up of host and Season 10 winner Kristen Kish, judges Gail Simmons and Tom Colicchio, but kick it up a notch for the legendary Emeril Lagasse. On the line was $250,000, a feature in Food and Wine magazine, and an appearance at the annual “Food and Wine Classic” in Aspen.

After the final cook, it was Garcia who took home the title. The New Yorker served up scallop leche de tigre with breadfruit and nori tuile; smoked mussels with fine herbs purée; spiny lobster, salsa macha, and chaza sauce; and melon sorbet with avocado yogurt and candied seaweed for dessert.

Here Garcia opens up about his experience being under Top Chef pressure cooker.

What does it mean to you to win Top Chef

Danny Garcia: I don’t think it has settled in yet. I think I’ve had the moment by myself and in the hotel room after I won. I called my wife and had that moment. It hasn’t hit me yet.

Tell me about your four-course meal during the finale. You tugged at the heartstrings talking about your grandfather and how you share your story through food. 

For me, the story was the first food moments throughout the journey of where I started and where I’m going. The first course of scallops was one of the first dishes I cooked for my mentor and chef Jamal James Kent working with him at The NoMad. It was a dish I made for him. Then moving the dessert was inspired by my grandfather being in New York. I wanted to tell a story, but a story that was true to me through everything I cooked.

Top Chef - Season 21

Pictured: (l-r) Kristen Kish, Danny Garcia, Emeril Lagasse, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

What was it like cooking for Emeril? 

He is fun. He is an icon of American cuisine. I grew up watching him on Emeril Live and watching on TV throwing his Bam! and let’s spice it up a bit and all that jazz. To be able to be in his presence and cook for him was really exciting. He is a chef you look to for your entire career as he paved the way, especially for TV personalities. He is the guy.

Tell me about working with Manuel Barella as your sous-chef. You ran into a few difficulties with melons and also had to think quickly when it came to finishing the lobster. 

Manny is my boy. There was no question if I would choose him. We had a good relationship and someone I trusted. I knew whatever we were going to do, we were going to put our best foot forward and be able to succeed. My vision of dishes I explained to him, and he helped me bring them to life. Sh*t went sideways, but that’s the name of the game. Things go wrong. It’s a matter of when it was going to go wrong. It was about pivoting. With the melon, there was a communication error. We were able to adapt to each situation.

How was it competing in the finale alongside Dan and Savannah? 

Dan’s food is delicious. There is no doubt about it. I respect the way he cooks. Savannah was fun to watch her show her voice a bit more and cook food that excited her. It was fun to watch a younger chef come into their own each week.

Top Chef - Season 21

Pictured: (l-r) Danny Garcia, Manuel “Manny” Barella Lopez — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

It’s crazy to think you had just participated in the New York Marathon not long before heading to Curacao for the competition. How did you think mentally that came into play? 

We got home and my goal was to train for the New York City Marathon and did it also while on Top Chef. Before going, I did a long extensive period of training. When I got home after being on Top Chef before the finale, I got in better condition and ran the Staten Island Half Marathon. I felt good and thought just do it. A few weeks later was the New York City Marathon. It just put me in a great mindset. I had fun and ran with some of my best friends and ran a good race. It put me back in that competitive mindset and gave me the right headspace to go to Curacao and feel confident in everything I was doing.

What did you think of Kristen as host and judge this season? 

I think she was great. She brought a unique perspective from being on the ground with the experience and having been in the competition. She did a great job.

What did you take from your extended time in Wisconsin? 

It wasn’t something that was on my radar initially, but then you go and the people were amazing and kind. The food was delicious. It was more than just cheese.

How do you look back on your time on the show? 

The biggest thing for me was the relationships that were formed and created on the show. We’re now friends and part of this circle. I get to watch each chef excel and change our industry and put our best foot forward for our industry.

Top Chef - Season 21

Pictured: Danny Garcia — (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

Even before the finale, you had already banked $53,000 from Quickfires and won all these challenges. You even won a cruise! Have you thought about where you’re going with your wife? How was it working on a cruise ship?

I haven’t thought about our destination yet. As for working on the ship, there weren’t enough Dramamine patches for us on any given day. Everyone needed like five of those things. It was different. It was just like being in a kitchen with many variables, except this one you’re on a boat rocking back and forth. Things are sliding. Things are moving. You have varying scales. It was hard. It was different. It was definitely a challenging space.

You mentioned during the show you were opening a restaurant. What is the update on that? 

Our restaurant will open in the fall. The name is Time and Tide. The idea is to do food that plays off of an old steakhouse through the lens of a seafood restaurant. Focusing on sustainable seafood, in season and preparation that is delicious. It’s creating food that as chefs we want to eat. The name came from my late partner Jamal James Kent. His grandfather was Charles Mingus, a famous jazz musician. It’s the name of one of his songs. We pulled from that as a play-on-words old phrase to reference.

James unfortunately passed away this past Saturday. His vision was that he always wanted to create a restaurant that implored and empowered the chefs around him. He would give the chefs the opportunity they wanted or he thought they deserved. This restaurant is that. He and I have known each other for 10 years. This restaurant is the culmination of different ideas and paths. We’re expanding the hospitality group, and this was the next step in that process. The restaurant is a gift.

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