Talent: Buddha Lo @buddha__lo
Photographer: Jayme Thornton @jaymethornton
Contributing Editors: Paul Doherty @pauljuliann
NEW YORK - From the bustling kitchens of regional Australia to the high-stakes culinary challenges of 'Top Chef', Chef Buddha Lo's journey is nothing short of extraordinary. As a two-time winner of the esteemed competition, Lo has etched his name in the annals of culinary excellence, setting a benchmark for chefs worldwide. This exclusive interview delves deep into the chef's experiences, exploring the milestones, challenges, and aspirations that have shaped his illustrious career. Join us as we unravel the story of a chef who turned his passion into a legacy.
IRK: Looking back at your 2019 'Top Chef' victory, how do you feel it influenced the trajectory of your culinary career over these past four years?
Buddha: Winning Top Chef season 19 was truly the pinnacle of my career; after the show finally aired, it changed my life in a way I wouldn't expect. Starting this career 20 years ago, I never thought that the path I was embarking on could reach these heights. After winning Top Chef Season 19, it only added fuel to the fire to want more.
IRK: How has your cooking style or philosophy evolved since your win? Were there any significant milestones or changes in direction for you?
Buddha: Honestly, nothing has changed in my cooking style or philosophy. I have loved cooking from a very young age, and since then, I have always been up to date with the culinary world and followed the latest cooking techniques and trends. My love for food is universal; I will keep pushing myself to make sure that I try and keep learning different recipes, food cultures, and flavors.
IRK: What unexpected challenges or opportunities came your way due to your exposure?
Buddha: I realize that I now carry the large weight of two Top Chef wins along with the chefs and mentors who helped me get to where I am today. This is a challenge that I welcome with open arms. I now have a responsibility to make sure that I become a role model and mentor for future chefs and the industry.
IRK: Over the past four years, have you collaborated with any notable figures in the culinary world? Are there any projects or ventures that were particularly close to your heart?
Buddha: Not yet. My time in New York has been short, and competing on Top Chef two times also takes a lot of time. I never got to fully experience the opportunities after my first Top Chef win because I put everything on hold to ensure I was ready for season 20.
IRK: In 2023, what are your aspirations for the next career phase? Are there any upcoming projects or innovations you’re particularly excited about?
Buddha: Yes! I finally got the keys to a restaurant in Tribeca; we plan to open in 2024. We have been looking for a restaurant space for some time now because we have outgrown our current location and need a bigger place. At the moment, we have a 500+ waitlist every night.
IRK: Having been a longtime fan of Top Chef, what was your initial feeling about being chosen for season 19? And then again for season 20?
Buddha: When I got the message to go to Houston for Top Chef season 19, I knew I had to do it. I watched Top Chef as a teenager in regional Australia and have always wanted to compete. I was a chef in NYC and got asked if I wanted to do it, and for this opportunity to fall into place was like winning the lottery. On the final challenge, after plating up my final dish, I felt emotional knowing that this might be the last time I would ever do this, so when I got the phone call to do Season 20, I was over the moon! I knew that if I had not gone on Season 20 Top Chef: World All-Stars, it might be the biggest regret of my career.
IRK: What was your initial reaction when you were crowned as Top Chef winner for two consecutive seasons?
Buddha: I was so relieved and exhausted that doing two seasons of Top Chef back-to-back takes its toll. I won Top Chef twice within 11 months, so I was ready for a little break from it all to make it that far in Season 20 and come out as a winner.
IRK: "Top Chef All Stars" brought together some of the best chefs from previous seasons. Can you share what it was like competing against such a talented and experienced group of chefs?
Buddha: It was amazing to meet this group of talented chefs worldwide! What I love about the hospitality industry is that food is our language. Talking and hanging out becomes so much fun when you find someone or a group of people who are just as passionate about what you do. It's almost like you have been friends for years.
IRK: This season of "Top Chef All Stars" had a unique set of challenges. Can you discuss a particularly memorable challenge and how you approached it differently than your first season?
Buddha: One of my favorite challenges on Top Chef: World All-Stars was the emoji quick-fire challenge. Chef Gaggan was so right when he mentioned that emojis are a universal language, so this challenge was a lot of fun! I chose the blue frozen face emoji and did a dish called "freezing myself to death," where I captured the emoji in its edible form and was able to highlight all the senses.
IRK: Can you share a moment or dish from either season of "Top Chef" that you are incredibly proud of and that truly showcased your culinary skills and style
Buddha: The Wellington Challenge in Season 20! I think that to execute Wellington flawlessly, you have to use all the fundamentals of cooking. We were asked to make three Wellington dishes in three hours for 30 diners. This is cooking 101, in my opinion; there is no big equipment required to make this dish apart from pure skill, and that's why I loved it so much. It can show what level of chef you are at.
IRK: The culinary industry has its share of trends. How do you stay innovative and keep your menu fresh and exciting for your customers?
Buddha: The real trick is that I don't have signature dishes that stay on menus long. Once it’s time to change the menu, I find it an opportunity to learn, create, and challenge myself into creating new dishes.
IRK: Beyond your professional life, what are your favorite dishes to cook at home when relaxing and enjoying a meal?
Buddha: I love cooking various cuisines and comfort foods at home. I cook fine dining at work and cook rustic at home. That way, I am in touch with both aspects of cooking and constantly learning and evolving. At the moment, I have been into cooking Roman-style pasta dishes at home and trying to nail it.
IRK: We’ve partnered with the United Nations to raise awareness of the Global Goals.
Which goal(s) do you associate with and feel strongly about?
(Please see link here: https://www.globalgoals.org/)
Buddha: I want to make cooking compulsory in schools until you graduate high school. We take food for granted and eat three times a day. In school, I was taught a lot about things I never used, but I can guarantee that the skills required to cook simple dishes at home are something you can use for the rest of your life.
IRK: What is your favorite book, song, and band?
Buddha: Gordon Ramsay’s Three-Star Chef. Think of you - Rodriguez. Arctic Monkeys
IRK: Lastly, what would it be if you had to pick your favorite restaurant ever?
Buddha: Paul Bocuse!
Thornton is a NYC-based fashion photographer with editorial and advertising clients worldwide.