‘TOP CHEF’ WINNER BUDDHA LO WANTS TO OPEN A SPOT WITH ‘A COOL BROOKLYN FLAIR’
Buddha Lo caught the attention of the “Top Chef” judges (and the show’s fans) from the very start of his winning season. On the first episode, which aired in early March, he produced a “spotted dick” — a traditional British steamed pudding cake that usually contains dried fruit and is served with custard. Lo’s spin on the dessert involved miso ice cream and beef fat caramel.
The judges were impressed with the bold move, and amused by its name. As was Twitter.
Lo would ultimately deliver on that early promise. He was crowned the winner of the Bravo cooking show’s 19th season on Thursday night.
About that spotted dick recipe: Lo picked that up from his time in London, where he cooked at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, the famously belligerent celebrity chef’s flagship. But London is just one of several entries on Lo’s international resume, which begins in his parent’s Chinese restaurant in a small coastal Australian town called Port Douglas, includes some of Europe’s most prestigious kitchens, and lands at Eleven Madison Park, the three Michelin star restaurant in Manhattan.
Now at just 30, he’s the head chef of Huso on the Upper East Side, which claims to offer the only fine dining tasting menu focused on caviar in the United States. Throughout his time in New York, he has felt most at home in Brooklyn, though, a borough he appreciates for its different flavors and cultures.
Lo is currently in the process of opening up other Huso locations, but a Brooklyn eatery with a distinctly non-Michelin vibe could be in his future.
“I would love to open up a restaurant that’s a little more casual, but also with a cool Brooklyn flair to it,” he tells us.
On the phone the day after his win, slightly hungover from celebrating, the rising culinary star opened up to Brooklyn Magazine about his precocious start in the kitchen, the “Top Chef” experience and his favorite Brooklyn haunts.
This interview has been edited for clarity and concision.
Your dad had over a dozen siblings, most of them also chefs. What was it like growing up in that world—and working at the family restaurant in Port Douglas?
I was babysat as a child, my parents worked seven days a week. And that was not sustainable. At eight years old, I was like, I don’t want a babysitter. And I said to my mom, “Look, I’m going to do my own homework, I’m going to cook for myself, I’m going to prepare my own lunches. I’m going to look after myself.” So she ended up letting that happen. And so I started cooking for my brother, who’s older than me, making his lunch.
And just a few years later, you’d end up cooking in Gordon Ramsay’s London restaurant. What was that like in contrast?
Everyone wants to work for Gordon Ramsay, but no one wants to put in the work. So when I got into the restaurant, I counted probably at least 20 people leaving in less than three months. Getting in is very easy. But surviving, that’s the hard part.
From the moment I woke up at 6:20, in 40 minutes, I would have gotten ready for work, rode my bike to work, got dressed, put on a pot of water, cooked seven lobsters, and broken them all down. And had it in the fridge by 7.
When you started at Eleven Madison Park, did you live in Manhattan?
I lived in Brooklyn for most of my time because it’s not as expensive as Manhattan and I felt like even though it was a very intense restaurant, the hours in America are different. Everything’s done by the book. You clock in and clock out. For restaurants that I’ve worked in, in the past, especially in Europe, we don’t have that system. It’s literally: you’re paid a salary and you work 100 hours a week, but on your paycheck, it says he worked 40 hours that week.
Where do you go in the borough?
I do enjoy a boogie, so I do like going out to Brooklyn Mirage every now and again, that’s a fun time. I do enjoy going to Roberta’s — funny enough, last night in the [“Top Chef” post-wrap] party bus we got 12 boxes of Roberta’s pizzas.
I live near Bushwick. I just love the flavor of where I’m at — a lot of Hispanic food, and around this time in the summer everyone’s blasting their music and fire hydrants are popping, it’s so fun to be around.
Do you think more of the “fine dining” scene will ever gradually move over to Brooklyn, as it continues to gentrify? Or will Brooklyn always retain a separate flavor?
Currently, if you want to have that really high, luxurious experience, it’s Manhattan.
I’m not sure if the fine dining will come to Brooklyn, but there are definitely a lot of cool places to eat. I do love the casual eateries that we do have [outside Manhattan], even going to Queens for Chinese food and Elmhurst for some great Indian food. It’s just where it is.
What was the most difficult moment of the show?
The most difficult was the fish challenge [in episode 12] for sure. Having to do eight dishes for a panel of eight people like eight people — 16 different [plates] all in one time… that was insane. There was a lot of pressure with that one, especially because I was so close to making it to the finale.
Now that you’ve been on the show, why do you think it has lasted so long and become the TV mainstay that it has?
The judges have definitely solidified themselves well, so that people want to listen to their opinion. They’ve done it for 19 seasons now; they know exactly what they’re talking about. The formula of changing it to different locations has always been amazing. It’s not like most competitions, where it’s like, you’re in a studio and that’s it.
What were highlights from the show for you? And how long did your fellow contestants keep the spotted dick jokes going?
We had a lot of banter on a group chat, [fake] dick pics and stuff like that. But yes, the spotted dick, I would probably say is quite a memorable dish. I didn’t win [that round], but I did get some very good feedback from that. Coming out with a dessert in the first episode, that’s like, unheard of, especially when the challenge was to utilize beef. I’m not reinventing the wheel here. Spotted dick has been around since the 1800s.