After enduring several elimination rounds, Quickfire Challenges and unexpected ingredients (Spam!), Nicholas Elmi has been crowned Top Chef for Season 11.
"I feel pretty awesome!" he tells the Dish of his victory.
But he's not ready to rest on his laurels just yet: the Philadelphia-based chef, devoted husband and father has been hard at work launching his new restaurant Laurel, which has already been getting rave reviews. Expect his profile to rise even further now that he's added Top Chef winner to his resume.
We caught up with Nicholas after his victory to talk about the lessons he learned, the toughest challenges he faced, and whether he would do the competition all over again.
How does it feel to be the next Top Chef?
Awesome! It's been a while since I found out and the luster has worn off but it's going to get exciting again now that the whole world knows!
Looking back to when it all started, did you ever think you'd make it this far?
You know, everybody goes on to win. Nobody goes on to make it into the Top 5. I always thought I was good enough to be in the top and I just kept fighting until I won. Obviously, I may have stumbled at points towards the finish line, but I got there!
What was the toughest challenge you faced?
I think the French-Spanish challenge, only because we were done and our plates went out and we felt so high with what we accomplished. Then, to get ripped apart...that was eye-opening.
Was it tough to be apart from your family for the duration of the competition?
It was. When you're pulled apart from your support system, you really figure out who you are. You realize all the little things they do for you every day: my wife making me coffee in the morning or making sure I have deodorant [laughs].
Who was your most formidable opponent?
I think when Louis got eliminated we were all really surprised. He's undeniably talented—he proved that in Last Chance Kitchen. We all had a gut feeling he would fight through. It was surprising and nice to see him [come back].
Did you ever want to throw in the towel?
No. Not at all. There were several times where I was like, 'Wow...this was physically hard!' The audience understands how hard we work, but at no point did I say to myself, 'You're too tired.'
What kept you going?
I just kept my head down and focused. Focus on the task at hand, concentrate on one thing and don't let the noise around you get to you. And once you figure out your task, completely invest your entire being into it.
What's been your biggest splurge since winning?
Oh, man. I mean, nothing. I haven't done anything yet. I've been working. Literally, I came home from Hawaii and two weeks later opened a restaurant [Laurel in Philadelphia]. I haven't really had a choice. But we've closed the restaurant for the next two days to come to New York. We're gonna hang out and have some fun.
How have things been going with your new restaurant?
The response has been unbelievable. We've gotten great reviews so far. It's a 22-seat BYOB in South Philadelphia and we call it French-inspired American food. It just kind of encompasses everything I've done and learned. But it also shows a lot of restraint. The past few restaurants I've worked at...they've been extravagant or overly creative. Laurel is very clean and restrained.
Are you expecting a tidal wave of customers now that you've won?
The restaurant is so small and we've essentially been booked every night. We serve 44 people, but we have a great eclectic crowd.
Any Top Chef fans?
We get people from the hood and people from the Mainline [area outside Philadelphia] and a young crowd. But we get two to three tables who come in just for Top Chef. It's awesome. There's only been one or two creepers [laughs].
What are your goals now that you are a Top Chef?
My focus right now is to make Laurel one of the best restaurants in the city. If not the best. But there are going to be a ton of opportunities now for me and that's one of the reasons I did Top Chef. I'm excited!
Would you do Top Chef again?
Watch Nicholas Elmi get crowned as the next Top Chef!