Amar Santana Misses ‘Top Chef’ by One—and That’s Not All Bad

He battled his way to the ultimate showdown with chef Jeremy Ford, whose technical bent pleased the judges

You’ve probably heard the disappointing news by now—Amar Santana didn’t win “Top Chef.” Not for lack of incredible cooking, that’s for sure. I chatted with him this morning at 10, and he said he’d just gone to bed. I can imagine—coming in second place on “Top Chef” is something to celebrate.

Besides, when I asked what, with hindsight, he would have done differently, he was adamant: “Nothing. I wouldn’t change a thing.”

After all, coming in second, he’s in very good company. As Amar says, “I was talking to Bryan Voltaggio [who came in second on season 6, losing to his brother Michael], and he said, ‘Bro, number two is better than number one—I have nine restaurants now and I’m opening two more.’ I’m like, you know what, that makes sense. That’s my goal—I want to have 10 restaurants, and it’s going to happen, for sure.”

Sounds like a Wolfgang Puck-level empire. “It’s funny you should say that,” he says with a laugh. “My broker, when he got me the Broadway space, said, ‘Amar, I’m going to make you the next Wolfgang Puck.’ He was at Vaca last night watching the show, and said, ‘Don’t worry about it, you already have two restaurants, and you started earlier than Wolfgang Puck, so let’s get ready.’”

What was his biggest takeaway from the experience? “The exposure that I got—not just in Orange County, but around the world. It’s something you cannot pay for. At the end of the day, I tell everybody, I didn’t go on the show to become a celebrity chef. The reason I went on the show was because I want my business to be successful. I want a line out the door every day. Ever since the show’s aired, you can’t even get a reservation in my restaurant, which is the best problem to have. A lot of people said oh no, you’re on ‘Top Chef,’ we’re never going to get in! I’m like, you know what? I take that as a compliment.”

So after Broadway in Laguna Beach and Vaca in Costa Mesa, what’s next, restaurant-wise? There are things under development, but also under wraps: “We have a lot of plans in the works… I just can’t talk about them right now.” Will there be more in O.C.? “Some of them yes, some of them no.”

We’ll all be watching the “Top Chef” turbo-charged Amar Santana empire, in Orange County and beyond.

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