Spiaggia executive chef Joseph Flamm won season 15 of “Top Chef” Thursday, but he has no plans to leave the restaurant and start his own anytime soon.
“The goal is to open my own restaurant, but I have nothing concrete right now … it’s still something I’m working on,” Flamm said, when reached by phone Friday.
Flamm beat Hyde Park native Chef Adrienne Cheatham for the top spot in the culinary competition.
“People know that Chicago is a serious culinary city, but it’s awesome whenever it’s on the forefront,” said Flamm, who grew up in Chicago’s Ashburn neighborhood and attended Marist High School. “It’s fun that we’re both from the South Side, too. I love Chicago, so to be able to put it on display, it’s the best.”
This Colorado-based season was the first in which both finalists going head-to-head for the $125,000 prize were from Chicago. The pair beat out 14 other chefs to get to the finale. Flamm said he plans on spending the money purchasing a home for him and his wife, Hillary. They currently reside in Chicago’s Humboldt Park neighborhood.
For the final challenge, each chef was tasked with serving a four-course meal to a table of famous chefs and restaurateurs. Flamm cooked dishes in line with his Italian roots, the highlight of which was a pig head tortellini. Cheatham showcased her love of Southern food, serving the judges dishes that included a spoon bread and a blackened octopus with grits.
“I had a menu plan going into it, that’s what you do. You try and make good food that you can execute really, really well. I felt like I had a really good team as well. It was so validating and enjoyable,” Flamm said.
The competition was close, with judges nit-picking each dish to try to determine a winner. In the end, judges chose Flamm, who they said was able to cook Italian food “in his own way.”
“Would I have preferred to win? Yeah,” said Cheatham through tears on Thursday’s televised finale. “But I have no regrets.”
“We went back to the hotel, me and Adrienne, we had a beer. In the end, it’s funny because we’re the only two people there, the only person you have to celebrate with is the person you just beat, which is weird,” Flamm said. “She was very happy for me, and she was very much about making the whole thing about me.”
Flamm said Cheatham was a strong competitor who went through a lot to get to the finale.
“She had an incredible season, she had to be on the bottom a lot, that messes with you. It just shows how strong of a cook and person she is to be able to keep it together with all the ups and downs,” he said. “Adrienne is an amazing person, and she was such a gracious competitor.”
Flamm was eliminated earlier on in the competition during a sudden death, quick fire challenge, but he fought his way back into the finale in “Last Chance Kitchen,” a contest that pits eliminated chefs against one another leading up to the final five.
When asked if the competition ever became challenging mentally or if he ever missed home, Flamm said he struggled almost every other day.
“You’re losing your mind, you’re sleeping on a bunk bed, you would much rather be home,” he said. “It’s really hard, you’re cut off from life … it’s hard to keep yourself going, but you just have to stay motivated.”
Flamm watched the finale with his grandmother, who made an appearance in an earlier episode.
Before becoming executive chef at Spiaggia, Flamm had stints at BellyQ, Girl and the Goat, and Table 52.