Cooking

Top Mom

How Brooke Williamson, this year's ‘Top Chef’ champion, handles her most challenging job of all
Top Chef Brooke Williamson with Her Son
Photo: Courtesy of Brooke Williamson

"It's hard to be a leader in a kitchen and also be an active parent."

That's Brooke Williamson, this season's winner of Top Chef, restaurant chef and owner, certified master sommelier, whiskey aficionado, world traveler, wife, and mother to nine-year-old son Hudson.

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One of the most challenging parts of the show for Williamson wasn't the competition, but the fact that she was the only mother on season 14. "There were several fathers, but I was the only mother, and I feel like it's a little bit different, and, yeah, it was really hard," she says. It was a familiar feeling though: Most of Williamson’s female chef friends don’t have children, at least for now. "It’s a constant juggle," she says.

Williamson admits she didn’t plan to have Hudson when she did but adds, "I’m glad it happened the way it did, because I don’t know when I would have felt ready."

Brooke and her son Hudson | Photo: Courtesy of Brooke Williamson

And being an active parent is important to Williamson, so she makes it work.

Hudson’s second homes are Williamson's restaurants—Playa Provisions and The Tripel in Playa del Ray, CA and Hudson House in Redondo Beach—where the family has dinner several times a week. "He knows his way around, and he feels like the office is his bedroom," Williamson says. Instead of chores at home, Hudson will help roll up silverware or dole out ice cream samples at Playa Provisions to earn his allowance. "Our normalcy is not normal," Williamson says. “He knows not to expect routine, and he has known that his entire life.” This has made Hudson an easy, adaptable child who can entertain himself and knows how to interact with adults.

Still, "it hasn’t changed his personality of being a very picky child," Williamson says. Of course, "there are probably foods that he is very familiar with and accepting of that others kids maybe aren't, just because of the fact that he's surrounded by them," like, say, the crab legs at Playa Provisions, which are a favorite of Hudson's.

Though Williamson says he's still a "separate-my-food-on-my-plate kind of kid," he is more open to trying new things.

Brooke Williamson on the set of Top Chef | Photo: Paul Cheney/Bravo

On a recent family trip to Japan, when Hudson was presented with snapper at an upscale sushi spot, he said, "I'm not used to this, Mom," to which Williamson responded, "You know what, at one point you weren't used to pizza. So let's give it a shot, and if you really don't like it, you don't have to eat it again." She adds, "It was also helpful that we were sitting directly in front of the sushi chef, and he understood that it was rude to not try something."

Eating with chefs your entire life will do that to you.

It's not always so easy, however. For Williamson's two Top Chef seasons, she had to be away from Hudson for seven weeks with very limited contact. The first time, for season 10 in Seattle, Hudson was four years old, and Williamson was "a mess." It was hard to come back and see changes, like how much his vocabulary had grown, while she was away. But she found ways to make it easier on Hudson, like preparing care packages and learning to delegate more to her staff, when she was able to be home with him.

The second time, Hudson was older and even gave her his blessings to compete again—but not without a little bribery in the form of an Xbox and a trip to Costa Rica. "I’m not a perfect mother, and if I can use bribery to make things easier, why not?!" Williamson laughs. "And this time, I could cry to him and have him say, 'Mom, it's OK,' whereas the first time I was trying to hold it together so he didn’t feel like it was a sad situation," she adds.

Photo: Courtesy of Brooke Williamson 

These days, one way she balances motherhood and work is by bringing her family along on work trips whenever possible. "I feel like we’re able to work in a lot of family time by doing events in places that my family loves," Williamson says.

And all of that travel and time at the restaurants makes being at home that much sweeter. "I love being at home," Williamson says. "I travel a lot, I do a lot of events, so being at home with Nick and Hudson is kind of where I want to be all the time."

Devorah Lev-Tov is a contributing writer for Tasting Table who travels the globe—and traverses NYC block by block—in search of her next amazing meal. See her latest adventures on her Instagram at @devoltv.

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