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The Daily Dish Top Chef

The Runner-Up of Bravo's Top Chef Season 16 Speaks Out: "You Can't Live Your Life Expecting to Be Number One All the Time"

The Top Chef Season 16 contestant has found inspiration in this famous past runner-up.

By Laura Rosenfeld
Sara Bradley, Eric Adjepong, and Kelsey Barnard Clark in Top Chef Season 16 Finale

There really isn't anything more nerve-wracking than waiting to find out whether or not you will be crowned the winner of Bravo's Top Chef at the final Judges' Table. The final three Cheftestants of Season 16, Eric Adjepong, Sara Bradley, and Kelsey Barnard Clark, entered Thursday night's season finale with the hope of hearing host Padma Lakshmi announce their name as the Top Chef champion. (MAJOR SPOILERS ahead!)

How to Watch

Watch the Top Chef Season 21 premiere on Wednesday, March 20 at 9/8c on Bravo and next day on Peacock.

Eric was eliminated right before the chefs served up the final four-course meal of the season, leaving Sara and Kelsey to go head-to-head for the title of Top Chef. As the ladies awaited the judges' decision, Sara said that she was completely at peace with whatever happened next, feeling "just like this big sister moment" while thinking of how far she and Kelsey have come since their days working together in New York City. "It's odd because, I think that everybody knows, and especially Eric knows because he spent so much time with us, that Kelsey and I are tight," Sara told The Daily Dish during an interview in New York City. "It was like a moment where I was like, 'If I don't win, I am OK because I want this girl to win.'"

Kelsey said during the same interview that she was similarly prepared and excited for either herself or Sara to win this season of Top Chef. "When we sat for Judges' Table before the announcement of the winner, we were like, 'Whatever. One's first, one's second,'" she said. "Of course we both wanted to win, but it really was just kind of like you're not gonna be upset either way."

But there can only be one winner of Top Chef, and Kelsey ultimately took home the coveted title for Season 16. Though it may seem like second is the most difficult place to be in, Sara said that she didn't see it that way when she got the runner-up position. "You can't live your life expecting to be number one all the time. But it's not every day you get to stand next to a friend, and you get to excel and succeed, and they get to excel and succeed, and you meet new people who do the same thing," she explained. "And then it's not that bad when they're like, 'Oh, you're second place.' You're one of 32 [Top Chef winners and runners-up]. You know, so it wasn't that bad." 

Sara already had her sights set on her exciting future anyway, which would end up including becoming pregnant with her first child, who is due in May. "I don't want to downplay how amazing Top Chef is, but at that point, I had already been gone and seen all these people having babies and I was like, 'When I get home, I want to have a baby.' And so it kind of was this, 'All right, I've done really well, and now I'm gonna go home and do the next step,'" she shared. "You know, I turned around and my husband and mom were there. It was great."

Sara also noted that plenty of runners-up went on to have amazing careers after Top Chef. "Nina Compton got second place, and she's badass," Sara said of the Top Chef Season 11 runner-up. "That's what I keep telling myself, 'Maybe I'll be Nina Compton one day.'"

In fact, Eric said during the same interview with The Daily Dish that Top Chef Season 16 could have been anyone's game since all of the contestants were competing at such a high level. "There was so much parity this season," he said. "If we rolled the Top Chef Season 16 dice a million times, there could be an instance where I end up leaving first or Sara could be the Top Chef. You know, there's so many different things, and the way it happened this way just really exemplifies just how great of a cast that we had."

Kelsey added that she heard that a criticism of the season among Top Chef fans was that there didn't seem to be a single front-runner in the competition. And she agrees with that because all of the Cheftestants were front-runners. "I think some haters are seeing it as no one was strong this year. And I'm like, 'You're so wrong. Everyone was so strong,' which is why you never knew who was gonna win or lose because it could have been any of us on any day," she said. "Even on Day 1, Tom [Colicchio] and Padma were like, 'Well, this is gonna be a season,' because we had our first Quickfire, and they were like, 'This food's great. It's seasoned. It has everything it needs. And this is gonna be tough.' And it really never stopped with that momentum."

See more from the Top Chef Season 16 finale, below.

The Top Three Chefs Enjoy Their Last Night in Macau
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