At last we know who took home the top title after winning Bravo's Top Chef Season 16. But before there was just one official Top Chef, there were three finalists — Eric Adjepong, Sara Bradley, and Kelsey Barnard Clark — and two of those came into the competition as longtime friends. So what did the heat of the contest do to their relationship — and did their friendship help them or hurt them as contenders?
Sarah and Kelsey sat down with The Feast to reveal their thoughts on how their 10-year pre-existing relationship affected them in competition. "It's not like Survivor — it’s not like you create an alliance and then you take people out because that’s not how this works," Sarah explained. "But there were times where [various Cheftestants] would taste each other’s food, you’d go over each other's dishes, and sometimes people might say something and you’d just blow it off [their feedback] — I’m still going to do the dish. But Kelsey knows me, she knows my food, we both cook Southern food, we know each other. There’s a difference in having one person you could completely trust."
Kelsey echoed, "I’ve known this chick for 10 years. And you value what they say. Plus, when we were sad, we would talk to each other and we knew the responses were genuine. You miss your family."
She added, "The support system I had with her was beneficial. Competition wise, we all were in our own heads — so you pick someone you confide in or you’ll lose your mind. We all had a person but it definitely helped me personally to have someone I could trust and be crazy with — [someone to tell], 'I'm really going crazy. Somebody talk me off a cliff!'"
(Season 15 winner Joe Flamm described the same sentiment on the support of his dear friend and Fan Favorite Fatima Ali: "We were inseparable... You’re just terrified the whole time and just trying to drown yourself in rose to make everything OK.")
Indeed, Top Chef has a documented history of bringing chefs closer through the bond of the intense experience — versus tearing friendships apart amid the pressure of competition. And Kelsey and Sarah appear to have found just that to be true for their friendship and how the show affected it.
When they got to Macau, Sarah and Kelsey decided to keep their final meal concealed from each other — but that plan fell apart among the close friends.
Sarah explained, "Then three days later we were like, let’s just do one dish…"
And then, the "morning of the finale we were going over each other’s dishes and talking about how are we going to help?"
—Reporting by Laura Rosenfeld
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