'Top Chef's' Joe Flamm on That Game-Changing Sudden Death Quickfire
The smallest and youngest bear from this season’s power clique was abruptly sent home after a disastrous sudden death Quickfire that placed three of the most consistent and creative chefs on the chopping block. Joe Flamm leaving so early in the competition, in such an unceremonious way was a shock for viewers, especially given his performance this year and his background as a chef. Before arriving at the Top Chef house in Colorado, Joe was already shoulders-deep in Top Chef lore. He worked for Top Chef Masters alumni Art Smith and Tony Mantuano at Table 52 and Spiaggia, respectively, and Top Chef winner Stephanie Izard’s Girl and the Goat. Most recently he has risen to serve as executive chef at Spiaggia and Café Spiaggia, following in the footsteps of many who formerly held the position, to perform admirably throughout the competition. We spoke with the bear about his abrupt elimination and time on the show.
Food & Wine: You were arguably one of the most consistently strong competitors this season, what happened during that sudden death Quickfire? What tripped you up?
Joe Flamm: You know, on Top Chef it’s the truest form of you are only as good as your last dish, and I just didn’t execute perfect food, and at that stage in the competition there is no room for error.
FW: Do you think you deserved to be sent to the sudden death round? Do you think you deserved to go home? If not, who do you think should have been eliminated instead of you?
JF: It’s like I said, at that stage in the game, I knew my food wasn’t perfect, I knew it wasn’t up to the level of food that I cook, and if I’m not cooking my best food, then yeah I should go home.
FW: What would you have cooked for the Super Bowl-inspired tailgate party had you made it through the Quickfire?
JF: Oh man I probably would have went Korean short ribs off the grill, a different style of bbq to throw at Adam as opposed to what he typically does.
FW: What was it like coming to Top Chef after a number of Spiagga alumni have gone through the show? Did you get any advice before coming to the competition?
JF: Tony told me to stick with my guns and once I decide on something to take it all the way through, which was really good advice. Stephanie Izard told me to not make anything gross, and to be myself.
FW: What was your favorite dish you cooked this season?
JF: Probably the pasta Bruce and I cooked at Mercantile. We were on the losing team but I still thought it was a great dish
FW: What was the most difficult challenge you faced this season?
JF: DAVID KINCH, flowers, Quickfire elimination, need I say more? Ha!
FW: What’s your strategy going into Last Chance Kitchen?
JF: Have fun, cook food that is delicious and makes me happy to cook
FW: What’s a trick up your sleeve you wish you’d had a chance to show the judges?
JF: I don’t have a lot of “tricks” I just have a lot more beautiful food that I wish I could have cooked for them.
FW: Did you expect the Three Bears to go all the way? How do you think your camaraderie might have changed if you were all still in the competition?
JF: I don’t know if I expected us to be the final three but I thought at least two of us would be around the last five. But I don’t think the camaraderie would have changed, we all like to give each other crap, it would have probably just become even more annoying for everyone else involved.
FW: Who are you rooting for to win out of the remaining competitors?
JF: I was pulling hard for Fati but that was short-lived. Joe Sasto is a kindred Italian spirit so I love watching him cook. Carrie and Chris are insanely talented too and both awesome people, but my number one would probably have to be Adrienne because she’s also a southsider, so to see somebody from where I’m from win it would be the shit.
FW: Would you come back for another season? What would you do differently?
JF: No, it’s a very intense commitment as far as time and taking a break from the rest of your life (also I think my wife would kill me). I loved the competition and the people I was able to meet and become friends with, but I’m definitely one and done. I would have more fun, truly it’s a game and an adventure, not a competition. I would just try to enjoy the ride more, and not make a David Kinch dish for David Kinch.