Brooke Williamson was riding a three-elimination challenge win streak heading into the Top Chef finale, but the Los Angeles-based chef came up short to Kristen — or more specifically, two rounds short after Kristen took the title 3-1 in a best-of-five contest. "I didn't love the format of how they judged in rounds," she tells TVGuide.com. "I felt like it should've been a collective judging based on an entire meal. It would've been nice to actually put my dessert out." What was her planned dessert? Does she regret making those fried chicken wings? And does she have any more phobias? Find out below.
What did you think of the format change?
Brooke: I know there's some backlash about it. I thought it was a lot of fun cooking in front of a live audience. You're able to see how it all begins and the evolution of the food by the time it hits the plate. People saw all of it, which was really cool. I kind of forgot that people were there for a while. I didn't love the format of how they judged in rounds. It would've been nice to actually put my dessert out. I really thought I could get it to the fifth round. But it was fun.
What was your dessert?
Brooke: A black chocolate miso cake with red bean tapioca pearls and milk jam and black tea ice cream. I was very happy with the way my dessert turned out and I had spent a lot of time on it. I wouldn't have spent so much time had I known it wouldn't have been served! [Laughs]
How much pressure did you feel after you lost the third round?
Brooke: I was more concerned with getting the next course out. I wasn't really thinking, "Oh, this could send me home. This could not send me home." I just wanted to get my best food on a plate and serve it. It was more that I wanted to get back to work.
Do you think the chicken wings did you in? Were they too risky?
Brooke: I don't know if it's any one dish that did me in. I was happy with all the food that I served. I guess it wasn't the time or the place to be serving the chicken wings, but I thought it would be playful and fun. They just weren't what they were looking for, I guess.
Tom said he got it, but he didn't get it.
Brooke: Yeah. I mean, Padma loved them — she was licking her fingers. I thought they all enjoyed the flavors. I knew it was a risk, but I felt like it was a good dish.
Maybe it was because you forgot the wet naps.
Brooke: [Laughs] Exactly!
Kristen said you got to choose your sous chefs first, so why did you pick Stefan, Kuniko and C.J. besides the Team L.A. solidarity?
Brooke: It just happened that way that they all ended up from L.A. I picked C.J. and Stefan and Kuniko for different reasons and their skill sets. I've worked with a couple of them and I know how they work and I know their personalities really well. I felt really comfortable with my team and I was really happy with my team.
Some fans are blaming your loss on C.J. for burning the pig ears, but that's how you wanted them, right?
Brooke: It's totally unnecessary to put the blame on C.J. The executional error was not because of him; it was because I was expecting there to be full-sized fryers that would have regulated temperature and they weren't there. Had I known that that was going to happen, I wouldn't have served pig ears; I would've chosen something else. But I had already chosen my ingredients and I felt like he did a great job with the pig ears. A couple of them got a little crispy, but they tasted great and it wasn't his fault.
How far ahead were you able to plan and prepare? Kristen said she practiced her snapper.
Brooke: It was like a week or something [before the taping] when they told us what the finale would be. I was actually out of town and I wasn't able to practice. I was literally back home for two days and then I left to shoot the finale, so I really didn't have a lot of time to practice. But I don't feel like that hurt me.
You said you wanted to win because you wanted to prove that you weren't just winning the challenges because Kristen wasn't there. Did you feel like you were an underdog going up against her even with three-straight elimination challenge wins?
Brooke: I felt a little like the underdog. Because Kristen had been eliminated so early, people were rooting for her and wanted to see her come back and kind of conquer all. I could feel that just from the public and from reading things online and Twitter and social media. I had tons of support, but I felt like people as a whole really wanted to see her kind of get revenge.
I also think people felt like they were robbed of seeing you guys face off and maybe dominate the rest of the season into the finale had she not been eliminated.
Brooke: Yeah, and I was happy she came back. I knew it would be her. She was my closest friend there and we were both excited to go up against each other in the finale.
Do you have more phobias that we didn't see? There was a challenge involving every fear you mentioned.
Brooke: Yeah, exactly! It's like they planned it. "Hmm... what's Brooke afraid of?" [Laughs] What I was afraid would happen happened. But no, those are pretty much it. It's more like a fear of heights and situations that I can't get out of. A boat is kind of a prime example of being somewhere you can't get out of, as is a helicopter. They're situations I have no control over.