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Style & Living

Can You Guess Which Top Chef Judge Is John Tesar's Favorite?

Plus, the #cheftestant dishes some dirt on the most recent season.

By Maggie Shi
Brooke Williamson and Shirley Chung Reveal Why They Returned to Top Chef

The man once called "The Most Hated Chef in Dallas" has come a long way since his first stint on Top Chef Season 10. As a returning veteran on Season 14, John Tesar proved to be much more level-headed and less volatile, even when butting heads with fellow cheftestant Katsuji Tanabe.

"I have changed," John told The Feast exclusively. "I appreciate...the fact that most people have seen the change, and I can't tell you, there are thousands of people I've met…and they all walk up to me and they shake my hand and they say, 'I love the way you conducted yourself this season, you represented yourself, it looked like you put out some really good food,' and they were proud of me."

Though he thinks he packed his knives too soon (of course), John doesn't have any bitter feelings about how the show ended and applauded eventual winner Brooke Williamson for claiming the Top Chef title. In fact, he had a sneaking suspicion from the beginning that she would make it to the end.

"I thought it would be Brooke from day one," he claimed. "That show is geared for a cook of Brooke's mentality and style.… She's more homey, more comfort food-driven, and I think that works well, that genre, the food appeals in a more broader fashion."

He also thinks that there's been an "affinity" for Asian flavors lately on the show, which helped runner-up Shirley Chung and third place finisher Sheldon Simeon during the competition. "What dish didn't Sheldon put fish sauce in, you know what I'm saying?" he quipped, noting that he and Sheldon have "become very close friends."

And you might be surprised to learn that John also considers Katsuji a friend, even though their rapport might not be as chummy. "It's kind of a Ren and Stimpy kind of relationship, in the sense that we get along, we enjoy each others' company," John described. "I just think we have a different philosophy on life. I'm older, I'm less desperate. Katsuji, he just needs attention. He wants to be validated, and I've had a lot more validation."

And when it comes to the three main Top Chef judges—Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, and Gail Simmons—John is just as blunt. "I have tremendous respect for Tom as a judge and a chef, and he really keeps the show on the straight and narrow," he said.

He says he also respects Padma as a judge, but thinks she plays a slightly different role on the show. "She's always the one with the sad eyes and the dramatic eyes shifting back and forth when you're at Judges' Table and she has to tell you to go home, so she kind of plays more of a character."

But Gail is John's favorite judge, "because she tells it like it is, and she doesn't have favorites, and she kind of just looks at it as food and tells you. And you learn from all of them, in the whole process."

With so much drama during his second season, would he be willing to give Top Chef another whirl? The third time's a charm, right? "Definitely," John asserted. "I would come back in a heartbeat."

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