WARNING: The following contains spoilers from Thursday’s finale of Top Chef … obviously.
In of the most satisfying seasons of Top Chef to date — with tons of attention focused on actual cooking, and fewer over-the-top personalities than usual — a hefty dose of talent was served up sizzling hot. And the winner? That’d be single dad and self-starter Jeremy Ford, whose sophisticated technique wowed skeptical judges from day one. Fresh off his win as season 13’s victor, Ford talks junk food, Top Chef myths, and favorite memories.
What have the past few hours been like since you’ve been revealed as this season’s winner?
Absolutely amazing. I got to celebrate the win with [mentor] Jean-Georges [Vongerichten] in New York City, and some of my other mentors. It was amazing and humbling. I’m really excited to see what the future holds. It was really tough to keep it a secret for a couple of months, so it’s great it’s all out in the open.
What was your daughter’s reaction when you told her you won?
I called her, because she’s in Florida right now. Being in New York, I had to give her a call and she was screaming with excitement. She’s been asking me about it for months and months. She’s always said, “I know you won.” She’s been so confident about it. “You always win everything you do.” And I’m like “Babe, it’s not the same thing.” She’s been confident I was the winner from day one.
Are you going to do something special with her to celebrate?
We’re going on a cruise. I’ve got it all planned. She’s almost 9 years old now, and it’s the best age. She’s my buddy.
We know all about you the Top Chef contestant. But what’s one weird, quirky or crazy thing we don’t know about you?
I love training martial arts and jiu-jitsu. The two are very different. To go from training in jiu-jitsu to working in the kitchen requires a totally different mindset. And I love taking my [motorcycle] to like 150 miles per hour.
Fancy food aside, if you could pick one junk food on to live on for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Chinese food for sure. And hot fries. I love junk food.
What are you going to do with your Top Chef cash prize?
It’s early too tell, but definitely improve the quality of life for my daughter. I want to enroll her in a private school for the fourth grade. She’s been on honor roll for the past two years straight. Her current school is obviously too easy for her.
What’s one thing people would be surprised to know about how Top Chef is taped?
There’s this thing called hard ice. There’s literally always a crew member around saying, “Hard ice. Hard ice.” It means you have to be completely quiet. In between shots, “Hard ice.”
Season 13 was unique in that it took place across different cities in California. What do you think was the biggest challenge of moving from location to location?
For me, it wasn’t a challenge. Whenever you got through a challenge, you’d advance to the next city, which was so rewarding. You’d literally wait for the moment when they’d say, “Okay, pack up.’” For us, it was like, “We made it through another city.” It was a relief and really rewarding.
Who are you closest to after filming?
Kwame. He’s actually come down to visit me, and I’m going to see him for his restaurant opening in Washington, D.C. We’ve each stayed in touch with a lot of guys, but we were roommates and shared a lot of great times.
Did you learn any new techniques or grow to appreciate any new ingredients during your time on Top Chef?
Honestly the technique that I took away from the competition was how to really utilize five minutes. As a chef, you sometimes find yourself adding finishing touch after finishing touch. That can take as long as 10 minutes. But on Top Chef, you don’t have those minutes, so utilization of time is one of the most important things I learned, for sure.
Was cheftestant Phillip Frankland Lee as bad in person as he seemed on-camera?
No. He’s a great guy. I think everyone got the wrong perception of him because what he exposed, but as a chef, he’s great. I’d love to work with him in the future.
Out of all the dishes you prepared on the show, which do you feel the most proud of?
The dish I did for Hubert Keller, the pommes soufflées. I think it was my life in a nutshell as a culinarian. It used some of the oldest techniques I’ve learned and it was a collaboration with new techniques. It really spanned my career as a chef. Plus, I think pommes soufflées had been only done on Top Chef one other time.
What’s one piece of advice you wish you could have given yourself at the beginning of the competition?
To be a little more aggressive with the ingredients. You know, when those displays come out, everyone jets to it. Being the guy who’s like, “Oh, I’ll wait till he gets out of the way” can hinder you from getting something you really want, so if I could go back and jump over people to get stuff, I would.
What’s next for you?
For now, I’m embracing working underneath Jean-Georges [at Matador in Miami]. He’s one of the best chefs in the country, and pushes me to the be the best I can every day. I’m going to stay with him and enjoy the ride.
Do you have any plans to open a restaurant of your own?
One day, for sure.