“Top Chef” Winner Speaks Out After Nail-Biter Finale: 'There Were Mistakes but... I Was Able to Pivot' (Exclusive)

Finalists Danny Garcia, Dan Jacobs and Savannah Miller duked it out during the 'Top Chef' finale on Wednesday, June 19

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Dan Jacobs, Savannah Miller, Danny Garcia

David Moir/Bravo

Dan Jacobs, Savannah Miller, Danny Garcia

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

And the winner is ...

Bravo's Top Chef aired the season 21 finale on Wednesday, June 19 and named a new champion: Danny Garcia!

The executive chef at New York's Saga Hospitality Group — which includes nearly-impossible-to-score-reservation-restaurants like Saga, Crown Shy and Overstory founded by the late chef James Kent — edged out fellow finalists Dan Jacobs and Savannah Miller in an intense feast in the finale.

Season 21 was filmed mostly in Wisconsin but the final two episodes took place on a Caribbean cruise ship. Former Top Chef champ Kristin Kish joined the judges panel as the new host (following Padma Lakshmi's exit) alongside veterans Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons.

In typical Top Chef finale form, the chefs were tasked with cooking "the best four course meal of your lives," as explained by Kish. “The opportunity to cook whatever you want.”

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Dan Jacobs, Amanda Turner, Savannah Miller, Michelle Wallace, Danny Garcia, Manuel "Manny" Barella Lopez

David Moir/Bravo

Dan Jacobs, Amanda Turner, Savannah Miller, Michelle Wallace, Danny Garcia, Manuel "Manny" Barella Lopez

But the finalists did not have to face the multi-course meal alone. Garcia, Jacobs and Miller each got to choose a previously-eliminated cheftestant and selected Manny Barella, Amanda Turner and Michelle Wallace, respectively.

Related: Kristen Kish Says Padma Lakshmi 'Formed the Pathway' for Her to Be Top Chef Host (Exclusive)

Kish, Colicchio and Simmons were joined by guest judges, celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, Top Chef Canada judge David Zilber, Guelaguetza Restaurant's Bricia Lopez, Anajak Thai's Justin Pichetrungsi and Brindille's Carrie Nahabedian.

Garcia took inspiration from his Dominican and Puerto Rican family when serving a scallop and habanero leche de tigre, smoked mussels with plantains and cabbage, spiny lobster with salsa matcha and squash and his version of a “piragua con leche” with melon sorbet and avocado yogurt for dessert.

His dishes were praised, but not without some hiccups. “I was proud of the food that I put up and I was happy with the way things were turning out,” Garcia told PEOPLE during the 2024 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. He admitted that he didn’t think he had “hit a home run. There were mistakes, but I think I was able to pivot.”

<p>Bravo/ Stephanie Diani </p> Danny Garcia

Bravo/ Stephanie Diani

Danny Garcia

The judges were pleased with the creativity of Garcia’s dishes and how they all worked together. “It is the perfect end to his progression,” Kish said after eating his dessert course.

Jacobs’ four-courses were also highly complimented but Garcia came out on top. The two were neck and neck throughout the season.

“I think he and I have been in the top together many a times,” Garcia said of Jacobs.

Even their similar names added tension as they waited for a winner to be crowned. “You always hear, ‘And Dan—,’ you're like, ‘Oh shit, it's Dan.’ Or it's like, ‘Oh, it's Danny.’ So the announcement of the name was always stressful," he added.

The $250,000 prize is going towards Garcia and his wife Sumaiya Bangee’s “brownstone fund,” said Garcia. “We're looking to buy a home and really settle into a place." Otherwise, he is planning to use the momentum from his Top Chef win for his new seafood restaurant in N.Y.C., Time and Tide.

Related: Top Chef Finalists Reveal Their ‘Surprising’ Behind-the-Scenes Moments Before Season 21 Finale (Exclusive)

“This restaurant is my child at the moment. It's being there for my team, it's supporting my team. And then once we can figure this out and make it perfect and it can operate without me, then there's like, I can do this and I can do that. But for me this is the most important thing,” he said.

“It’s taking a classic N.Y.C. steakhouse and thinking about it through the lens of a seafood restaurant,” he revealed of the concept. “Finding global seafood, finding sustainable seafood, finding seafood that's in season and giving New Yorkers something that they have not seen or tasted before and just being a seafood restaurant of my generation.”

<p>C2 Photography</p> Danny Garcia is crowned 'Top Chef''s season 21 winner

C2 Photography

Danny Garcia is crowned 'Top Chef''s season 21 winner

Of course, Time and Tide will also have some inspiration from his time on Top Chef. 

Simplicity was one of Garcia’s biggest takeaways from the show, he said. “The way I was able to cook food on the show is you put five ingredients on the plate and take off two and be okay with that plate being good with three ingredients or even less. I want to cook food where I just can showcase the fish and you don't need to put all of the frilly bullshit on top of it to make it delicious because it's delicious as it is.”

Time and Tide will be his focus following his win, so don't except him to continue on the culinary competition circuit just yet.

“For me, it's not just like, ‘Okay, cool. I want to jump into Season 22 of Top Chef or I want to go on Beat Bobby Flay,’” he said. “But I'm not going to be the chef that nestles into my restaurant and you don't see and hear from me. I think working with other chefs and the community is important.”

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