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Richard Blais explains how different it is to come back to compete in the finale after being home.

By Richard Blais

Things have already begun to change. People are now approaching you in random places to say hello. At your restaurant, which is now 50% busier, it is hard to actually cook, because so many tables want to say hello. Your e-mail box is filling at a much more accelerated pace. Someone even started a Facebook fan page dedicated to supporting your beard....

So coming back is very different. You know what you look like and sound like on television. So you may have updated your hairdo. Bought a new leather jacket. Or hit the treadmill as it was with me. Or hit the cookie jar as it has been for others. But everyone is a little different now. And the playing field is absolutely leveled, because the break erases one important thing in any competition.


There’s an intangible feeling that momentum gives. I’ll bet at least three of our finalists never felt for a second that they were heading home at any point to date. Call it track record (which we are supposed to believe doesn’t exist), call it momentum, but whatever you call it, it’s gone now.

Ramping back up to the frenetic pace of cooking in the Top Chef world is tough. I should start a training school. Featuring the 401 class: Preparing for the Finals. Of course I know what not to do, like most coaches.

And the finals present even more challenges. Like not having the Top Chef kitchen. Like cooking outside or in a different geographical location with a host of new seasonal ingredients. Like all of a sudden living in a hotel room, by yourself, even for a few days. I’ll be the first to tell you that having a dozen cameras follow a group of chefs is weird enough. Having one personal camera crew for each chef makes things really awkward. Especially for me. I like to talk to myself out loud, but I’m savvy enough to not do it within earshot of company. Having a personal camera crew shut down communication with my alter ego for three days.  Needless to say, she was pissed that we didn’t win.

Finals also present these awkward moments where the chefs are just enjoying themselves in their new location. A stroll through a vineyard, a balloon flight, or squishing sand between their toes.  But they’re not relaxing. They’re thinking about food and what twists lay ahead. They don’t care about room service, or the wine tasting. I’m sure the thought flitted through Michael’s mind that he was going to have to cook Mr. Terlato, and how he was going to have to find a sous vide bag big enough, and that he would need more than one circulator to hold the temperature correctly. That he wanted his tenderloin, even though it’s a bit leaner. And he would of course cook it in one of his own wines.

But on a cheerier note, we are nearing the end of the season. And with the playing field equal, anyone can win. Especially with this group, where for the first time in a long time, everyone honestly deserves to be the winner, Jennifer included.

Keep up with me on Twitter @richardblais and at my blog on Omnivore Atlanta!

How to Watch

Watch Top Chef Season 21 Wednesdays at 9/8c on Bravo and next day on Peacock.

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