The 16th season of Bravo's "Top Chef" will be wrapping up Thursday night, and at this point in the game, with just three contestants remaining, there's still no odds-on favorite. Any of the finalists - Eric Adjepong, Sara Bradley, and Kelsey Barnard Clark - could easily take home the crown, and during a recent chat with The Daily Meal, the trio had nothing but praise for the Finale format, which changes from season to season.
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"The episode starts with the three of us, but only two get to cook the final meal," said Bradley, who owns a restaurant called Freight House in Paducah, Kentucky. "How we get to that point hasn't been discussed. But they didn't do anything that hindered us from performing at our absolute best."
"It's going to be an epic finale," added Barnard Clark, who runs a restaurant called KBC in her hometown of Dothan, Alabama. "The way they did it was very cool. I don't think people are going to get upset, because it's so fair. We had everything that we needed, nobody screws anyone else over, and everyone went in with guns blazing."
"It's just three excellent chefs cooking," summed up Adjepong, who runs a Washington, D.C., pop-up series called Pinch & Plate with his wife.
Heading into the finals in Macau, you might have thought that their stress levels would have been through the roof, but in reality that couldn't have been further from the truth.
"I loved Macau," Barnard Clark told us. "We had a new comfort and a sharper focus, and we came into it more confident, stronger, and more mature in the game. The biggest challenge was the mind game of the earlier episodes."
"In the beginning there were so many people, and trying to make your plate shine amongst 14 other dishes was a huge challenge," Adjepong agreed. "We were playing with the house's money in the finals. No matter what happens at this point it's just gravy, and that took a lot of the edge off it. Obviously, you still want to win, though!"
All three chefs agreed that watching themselves on television was awkward in the beginning of the season, but became easier as the show went on.
"Editing is a monster, so you just don't know what's going to make it to air," Barnard Clark said. "You don't know what's around the corner, you don't know if something you say is going to be taken out of context."Surprisingly, some embarrassing moments that the chefs could have sworn would have made it onto the show were left on the cutting room floor.
"I was cutting up a watermelon for a Quickfire with 15 minutes left, and I dropped the whole thing on the floor!" Bradley admitted. "But they never showed me dropping my food and looking up with tears in my eyes, even though a camera was on me the whole time."
"I twisted my ankle, and they didn't even show it!" Barnard Clark added. "I couldn't even put my plate out because I was on the ground."
As for what's next, each chef has a good idea of where they'll be heading after the finale airs.
"I'm having a baby, so I'm going to take a little time off and see how that plays out," Bradley said with a laugh. "I don't foresee Freight House being the only thing I have. I'd love to watch my hometown grow. I'm starting an educational program out of the restaurant, teaching adult cooking classes to fund classes for children. I'm really excited for children right now; I can't think of why!"
"I'm really committed to growing my town, especially downtown, where my restaurant is, and I have no plans of slowing down," Barnard Clark added. "I'm calling it my 'Yes Year,' where I'm going to say yes to as many things that come my way as possible. I really like the TV world, and am really open to what life throws at me!"
Adjepong is taking a similar approach. "So many great opportunities are being tossed at me, and I'm saying yes to a lot of things and keeping my options open." He said. "I'm going to keep cooking great food, and am hoping to open a brick-and-mortar restaurant in D.C. or New York in the next couple years."
The "Top Chef" season 16 finale will be airing Thursday, March 14, at 9:30 p.m. (8:30 Central). And if you're looking to fill the void once the season is over, you can track down some of the best cooking shows of all time.