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Didn’t Top Chef season 15 pass by quickly? For over three months now, we’ve watched the 15 cheftestants duke it out across our beautiful state, competing everywhere from Denver’s Larimer Square to a sunny meadow in Aspen to a snow-covered campsite in Estes Park. Chicago native and Spiaggia executive chef Joseph Flamm ultimately took home the title, beating out local contestants Carrie Baird (Bar Dough) and Brother Luck (Four by Brother Luck) along the way. No matter: Watching the Centennial State and two local chefs take center stage was prize enough for us. Baird and Luck had wildly different experiences on the show, but they agree on one thing: The roller coaster ride that is Top Chef was completely worth it. We sat down with them for one last Top Chef chat.
5280: What was your favorite moment from season 15?
Brother Luck: The best moment for me was the Comal episode—cooking with those refugee women, hearing their stories, finding my inner memory, and cooking that dirty rice dish. That was special. It was a light-bulb moment of understanding my own cooking a bit more.
Carrie Baird: Our family members being there [in episode 12] was the neatest. It’s so surreal trying to describe all the famous people you meet, and being around Tom and Padma. To have my mom see it with her own eyes, to meet Tom and Padma and have a meal with them. [My mom] doesn’t live in Denver, so to have her taste my professional food and see me at my best was the coolest.
But really the best part for me has been the local Denver people tell me ‘You’re doing Colorado so proud.’ To have the governor telling me that! Just being able to rep my town.
Least favorite moment?
BL: Getting kicked off. I felt a little blindsided. I felt 100% confident in my dish and there wasn’t one hint in my mind I was going home that night. When Tom started harping on me that ‘It wasn’t German, it wasn’t German,’ I was surprised. I was so upset that I paced interview room for 10 minutes like a wild animal. They had to calm me down.
CB: Being on the bottom was really hard. I was in the bottom on the first episode and then not again until I was eliminated. It’s such a negative adrenaline rush. Your heart is pounding, you kind of go blind. It’s jarring and not a good feeling.
What was your favorite Colorado filming location?
BL: I wasn’t on camera, but my favorite was cooking at that valley in Aspen with the cowboy cauldrons. It was surreal to be at the Aspen Food & Wine [Classic] cooking for Daniel Boulud and Danny Meyer.
CB: Telluride, no doubt. To see it in late June—it was just bright green. Everyone was in awe.
Did your competitors’ opinions of Colorado evolve throughout the season?
BL: I think a lot of the chefs had no idea how beautiful the state is. Coming from San Francisco myself, I fell in love with mountains and I’ll never leave. They saw the beauty and then they got to experience the inspiration. It was very important for Carrie and I to show that chefs here, we’re just as passionate—we’re working with farmers, doing all that. I think on the Fruition Farm episode, they really got that what we have here is special.
CB: When we were in Denver, we didn’t see as much of the city. But when people became in awe is when we hit the mountains. Estes with the snow, Telluride, Aspen, and driving through Colorado to those places, they were like, ‘Holy cow, this state is enormous and grand.’ A lot of them didn’t realize that this sort of stuff exists in the lower 48. I have this incredible pride for Colorado. I was like, ‘Did you see that? Did you know this?’ I took on the role of tour guide gladly.
I didn’t realize that people didn’t camp. I guess not everyone is from Idaho. [Laughs] I really enjoyed the camping, it was fun. Fatima was like, ‘I’m never going camping again.’
Brother, you spent a lot of time in Last Chance Kitchen. What was that experience like?
BL: I loved it. For me, it was the opportunity I waited for—to get to showcase what I do. It’s 100% about the challenge [in Last Chance Kitchen]—me versus you, straight up. I wanted to prove that I’ve studied and worked hard, and I ended up cooking my way through something like 80% of the competition in Last Chance Kitchen. There was free reign to just impress since you weren’t cooking toward a geared idea.
Have either of you seen a bump in visitors to your restaurants?
BL: Oh, it’s absolutely insane. We’re so busy. About 50 percent of guests on Friday and Saturday nights travel down from Denver. That’s special to hear—that Denver folks are coming to the Springs—since it’s always been the other way around.
CB: Absolutely. We’re clearly up from last year. It’s a wonderful thing. My crew and I are figuring out how to deal with it. Right now, the fancy toast on the menu is the ‘Top of the French Onion Soup’ [from episode 11]. It’s selling like hot cakes.
Have you guys stayed in touch with the other competitors?
BL: We’re all one tight family. We have a group chat that’s just hilarious to read. Last week I was in Chicago with all the bears, and the week before that I was in New York with Chris. I have dinners with Rogelio, Tu, Carrie, and Claudette planned. And Adrienne, Chris, and I are doing a soul food dinner at the James Beard House in New York [City] in June.
CB: We talk all the time. I’ve seen quite a few of them already. I’ve seen Chris twice, and I’ll see Adrienne this weekend at her wedding in New Orleans. We all stay in touch! We text a lot, we’re all on each other’s social media. I mean, it really was like summer camp.
What’s your advice to future Top Chef competitors?
BL: Listen to the challenge. It really is about being very, very specific in your cooking and gearing it to the challenge. That’s a key piece. You can’t cook what you want until further along in the competition.
CB: Cook for your judges. Listen to your challenge, try to read in between the lines. If you know who you’re cooking for, do a little research. Read about Tom and Padma and the [guest judge] chefs. Don’t reinvent yourself—like when Chris tried to make pasta, something he’s never made before. Do things you’re comfortable with and stick to what you know. If you serve well-seasoned food, you’ll do fine. I did.