He dishes on whether he expected to win—and what the title means for him now. 
Top Chef winner Joe Flamm
Credit: Bravo/Getty Images

Six weeks before show host Padma Lakshmi crowned Joe Flamm the Top Chef season 15 winner, she had asked him to pack his knives and go.

Flamm isn’t the first chef to come back from Last Chance Kitchen to win the whole competition, and his strong showing both in the concurrent show and the finals of the main competition earned him a second chance at the title. Because of his earlier misstep during the sudden death Quickfire challenge—preparing a new take on edible flowers and cauliflower to replace a key ingredient for Michelin-starred chef David Kinch—Flamm exited the competition at what many thought was too early for the Spiaggia-trained chef. After his first elimination, Food & Wine spoke with Flamm about his time cut short and his strategy going into Last Chance Kitchen, which you can read here.

Now, after an impressive winning streak lasting all the way to the finale, Flamm has a different attitude about his time in the competition and what his future as a chef will look like.

Food & Wine: How does it feel to be Top Chef?

Joe Flamm: Incredible. I can’t believe I get to join the list of top chef winners. It was incredibly overwhelming and I am completely filled with gratitude. It’s amazing.

FW: Did you suspect you had won or did you have no idea until Lakshmi announced the winner?

JF: I felt really good about my meal and the judges' comments, but it’s Top Chef, you never know.

FW: Did you have an idea of what you wanted to cook heading into the finale? What was your planning process?

JF: No, I just went for it. The only thing I knew I was going to make was that cake because it was literally the only pastry recipe I memorized, and it’s my favorite. Everything else happened organically with Joe and Fati.

F&W: Last time we spoke, you had just been eliminated from the show. How does it feel to come back through Last Chance Kitchen to win the whole thing?

JF: It made coming back even sweeter. It felt amazing to run the gauntlet.

F&W: Was there a difference competing on Last Chance Kitchen and in the regular Top Chef competition?

JF: Last Chance Kitchen was a really condensed and intense version of the completion. It’s more street fight than battle; a lot more muscle memory and reacting, [but] in the show you have a little bit more time to plan.

F&W: How do you think your time out of the competition affected how you competed when you came back?

JF: I was just having a lot more fun with it, cooking looser, and appreciating every moment of it.

F&W: What has the entire Top Chef experience meant to you as a chef? As a person?

JF: As a chef, it just opens so many doors. It’s incredible. It puts you in completely different conversations. As a person, I’m just so fortunate that I now have 14 incredible new friends.

F&W: What were your relationships like with the other chefs in the house?

JF: Incredible, I made some absolute lifelong friends. Any time you get the chance to share a kitchen with a group of people that insanely talented, it just makes you a better chef. That they were all such incredible individuals as well was a complete and total bonus. Love our crew.

F&W: What do you plan to do with your winnings?

JF: Try to set down some roots in Chicago, maybe buy a house, or disappear to Italy for a year.