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L.A.-based Brooke Williamson, 34, proved a formidable Top Chef Seattle competitor, her low-drama, no-nonsense approach to cooking — turning out dish after dish that demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of ingredients, flavors and technique — landing her a spot in the finale. Yes, she got tripped up by way over-thinking a fried-chicken challenge earlier in the season, but way over-thinking things is part of what made the self-taught Williamson so endearing.
Her swan song menu, which included mouth-watering seared scallop over salt cod puree, vadouvan chicken wings and braised pork cheek with crispy red snapper, was praised by the judges but ultimately wasn’t enough to eke a victory out from under season 10 champion Kristen Kish.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke to Williamson on Thursday about her second-place finish, her happiest reality-show memories and what life is like post-Top Chef.
The Hollywood Reporter: How do you feel the day after the finale?
Williamson: Tired. [Laughs] It’s been a long couple of days.
THR: What was it like watching yourself compete?
Williamson: It’s actually more intense to watch it than it was to live it. It becomes a lot more dramatic when you add music and see the expressions on our faces and watch the judges. It was very emotional to watch it.
THR: Is there anything about what you served last night that you thought, “Oh, I shouldn’t have done that?”
Williamson: No. Honestly, I have no regrets about what I did. I was actually very proud of every dish that I put out. I feel like my meal was really balanced, and I was really happy with the way my food came out.
THR: What was your reaction to seeing Kristen emerge as your final competitor?
Williamson: I was actually, strangely enough, excited to see her and excited to be competing against someone who I thought was the strongest competitor. My goal was never to be better than somebody who I didn’t think was the best. So I was happy.
THR: Were you actually shocked when she was eliminated so early in the competition?
Williamson: Yeah, I mean, I think everyone was. Nobody saw that coming.
THR: What was a highlight or a specific memory that you’ll cherish from this season?
Williamson: I have so many. You know, dog-sledding on a glacier in Alaska is definitely something I’ll never forget. Cleaning fish on the docks in Alaska. The berry farm was just gorgeous and beautiful. There are so many things that I did that I feel like I’ll take with me forever.
THR: And fried chicken might come back to haunt you. Are you a fan of fried chicken?
Williamson: [Laughs] I am. I feel like really good fried chicken is excellent. Mediocre fried chicken is not worth it. You know what, I don’t regret doing the fried chicken. Apparently, it wasn’t the platform for it, but I actually feel like my flavors and that chicken were like some of the best fried chicken I’ve eaten. And so I was very proud of that dish. I liked it, and I guess it just wasn’t a good time to present that dish.
THR: Has your success on Top Chef helped business at your two L.A.-area restaurants?
Williamson: Yeah. I mean, the locals are still being super, super supportive. The people that have been coming for years are still coming, but now we have this sort of influx of business from people who are driving in from across the city.
THR: Do you have one chef hero who you’d love to collaborate on a meal or menu with?
Williamson: That’s a good question. God, I don’t know. I feel like there are a lot of great L.A. chefs who I have already worked with, just at events and stuff. But I feel like actually somebody who I have a lot of respect for what they do is David Chang. I feel like I didn’t show my best colors on the [fried-chicken] challenge where he was the guest judge, and I would love the opportunity to collaborate with him and work with him and show him that I’m not a jackass.
THR: Finally, as a California resident, where do you fall on the whole foie gras ban situation?
Williamson: As much as I believe in not being cruel to animals, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me that I can buy duck and I can’t buy the liver. I mean, I understand the fury behind the ban, but it’s a pretty great ingredient, and I think there are a lot of other things that we could focus on when it comes to animal cruelty.
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