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October 22, 2014

'Top Chef Just Desserts' Winner Advice: 'Bring Your Running Shoes'

by Maggie Furlong, posted Oct 27th 2011 5:15PM
'Top Chef Just Desserts' Top 3Did you watch the 'Top Chef Just Desserts' Season 2 finale? Are you happy with who won?

We caught up with the show's big winner to talk about their plans for the prize money, loving the 'Real Housewives' and which "special" fellow contestant just needs more time to refine their craft a bit.

The winner -- who admitted "This is definitely, by far, the hardest thing I've ever done in my professional career" -- also gave some fancy footwear advice for anyone wanting to be Top Chef.

'Top Chef Just Desserts' Season 2 Winner Chris Hanmer, center, with (from L): judges Johnny Iuzzini, Gail Simmons, Dannielle Kyrillos and Hubert Keller.

I don't know if you
watched the first season, but this season, the contestants were head and shoulder above, experience-wise.
Yeah, I did watch the first season, and I felt a great sense of honor to be with the group of pastry chefs that were in this season. So professional, so talented -- even people with less experience were just wonderful people. You know, Craig stands out to me as someone very special. He really showed his true colors and tried his very best every day.

"Special" is a good word for Craig. [Laughs] You've gotta love him, but you could tell he was just out of his league ...
Well yeah, but it was just purely experience. That's the only thing. Craig will be in a position such as myself very shortly -- he just needs more time. That's the only thing he's lacking is time, because the passion, the skill and the dedication are there. He just needs time to refine a little bit and he's going to be where any of us are right now.

What was you favorite challenge?
Aside from the finale -- I mean, I really loved the format of the finale, and it really suited what I love to do -- my favorite one was the 'Real Housewives' challenge. I got to work in a medium that I don't often work with, or actually never work with. I got to do flowers and reeds and bamboo and build this super cool thing, this flower chandelier that made a bit statement. I thought that was what helped set our team apart: We were looking outside the box.

And you're obviously a huge Lisa Vanderpump fan ...
[Laughs] I will say my wife really enjoys the show! It was definitely cool to come back home to my wife and say, "We did a show with the 'Real Housewives.'" And she's like, "Which ones?" "I'm not sure -- show me a picture." [Laughs]

Yeah, there was a dog ...
[Laughs] Yes! There was a dog and they were British and they were really, really nice.

That's the reason people were really rooting for you, I think -- your sweet stories about your wife and baby daughter were very touching. You never let yourself become a reality TV villain, which is hard to avoid in competition, don't you think?
I do because I really care tremendously for people, and I think that you can critique work without having to personally annihilate people. From the beginning till the end, it's not wrong to say that you see something wrong with someone's work, and it happens to me -- people can critique my work -- but when you start mixing that with dislike for that person, that's where I draw the line. You can say, "Chris, you made a really bad dessert" and that's cool. But to say, "Chris, you're a horrible person that makes horrible pastry," [laughs] that's going a little bit too far. For me, it was just about the work.

But it happens so often that someone -- even someone nice -- just snaps.
Yeah, it's easy to get caught up in it, because you become so tired. You're in this little competitive island where the smallest thing can send you home, so I just really wanted to be myself.

So how are your wife and daughter? Happy and healthy, I hope?
My wife is still tremendous and awesome, and my baby girl actually was six months old yesterday, on finale night, so that was an amazing coincidence. She's three months from her open-heart surgery, and I'm extremely happy to say that she's fully healed, and the doctors say she won't have to have another surgery which, in the world of congenital heart defects, is just a huge relief. There's so many parents in situations similar to mine where their daughters and sons are six months old and they're already two and three surgeries in, with more coming. I just feel wonderfully blessed that she is healed and I can hopefully bring some more awareness and support to other parents in my situation.

'Top Chef Just Desserts' winner ChrisWhat are you doing with the $100,000?
I think that there's some shoes in the future for my wife! [Laughs] Being a small business owner, this win and this monetary compensation that comes with it is just really going to bless my business and actually help me grow and sustain. The surgery and the medical expenses drained our finances, so I'm fortunate that it comes at this time and now we have some breathing room.

Are you still a little exhausted from it all? It's such a whirlwind, and everyone always says that it's even harder and more fast-paced than it looks on TV.
It is! You'll notice in the last couple of episodes that I switched from my kitchen clogs to running shoes. Watching the show as a pastry chef, I kind of sat back and thought, "Why are these guys in running shoes? I would never do that." [Laughs] Clogs just aren't the right thing for that -- you're running more in the kitchen more than standing. Now I know: If you want to be Top Chef, bring your running shoes.

The holidays right around the corner. What's your go-to dessert that's easy for the home cook to make?
Honestly, what I made for my own finale party last night: I made churros. A simple fried dessert that you can put in any type of sugar ... you do some cinnamon sugar and you make a fun apple or cranberry sauce to dip it in, and they are just a really fun holiday treat, and super easy.

I assume you learned the good 'Top Chef' lesson and made them to order?
[Laughs] Of course! I was at my own finale party, working the deep fryer.

Tell us: What did you think of this season? Did the right pastry chef win?

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