Top Chef contestant John Tesar was a self-proclaimed rageaholic.
The Dallas chef lashed out at his fellow contestants when he first appeared on Top Chef in 2012 and 2013. He spewed cuss words at Dallas Morning News restaurant critic Leslie Brenner on Twitter when he didn't like a review she wrote about his restaurant. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he had already been named Dallas' "most hated chef" by D Magazine.
Once Tesar earned his bad-boy image, it was too late for him to go back, he says. "Either you collapse and don't come out of bed for a month or you play along with it," he says of the "most hated" article.
"And who doesn't want to be the bad guy?"
Tesar, that's who. Fast-forward a few years and Tesar says he's changed. Now 59 years old, the Dallas chef returned to Top Chef as the oldest contestant in the show's history. He made it all the way to the finale -- and he didn't appear to make many enemies. Tesar even cried in a recent episode, overcome by the idea that a talented chef was kicked off and he remained.
Has Tesar gone soft? "I've grown up a lot," he told us the week Top Chef Season 14 premiered. In that first episode, Tesar was up for elimination in the very first challenge. ("I bet the haters would love that!" if he went home, he said.) Amazingly, Tesar remained on the show for a dozen more episodes, holding his tongue during contentious cookoffs.
At times, Tesar even seemed nice, I told him.
"I am nice!" he quipped.
I can't be the first person he's trying to convince.
In the nearly five years since Tesar was first on Top Chef, he has gotten into -- and out of -- notable chef jobs for several Dallas restaurants including fine-dining place Oak. He's seen his son grow into an elementary schooler. And he claims to have spent a lot of time on himself.
"I meditate, I go to therapy, I smoke weed," he says.
He went on Top Chef a second time "to prove that I'm somebody," he explained.
"Most people my age are burnt out and have faded away -- or they're Bobby Flay and Tom Colicchio," Tesar says. "By the time you're 59 years old, you're either somebody or you're nobody."
Tesar assents that he's somewhere in the middle. He's the owner and operator of Knife, a steakhouse in Dallas that is expanding as Knife Burger in Plano later this year. On Feb. 15, he notched an impressive honor as one of the semifinalists for a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest.
His cooking chops and personality landed him a spot in the Top Chef finale alongside veterans Shirley Chung and Sheldon Simeon.
"Top Chef is storytelling. It's not really cooking," Tesar says. "I think I sculpted a really good story for myself this year."
"The one thing about television is you can't really hide."
Spoiler alert: Look away if you don't want to see the results of the first night of the finale of 'Top Chef':
Tesar called himself the "old man underdog" on the Top Chef finale. He was not wrong: He was up against two beloved chefs, Simeon and Chung, plus they were joined by the winner of an off-camera competition called Last Chance Kitchen, Brooke Williamson. (She cooked alongside Tesar in Season 10 and returned in Season 14; she was easily one of the best competitors both seasons.)
After a quickfire challenge at Estadio Chivas -- the soccer stadium in Guadalajara, Mexico -- and a cooking competition that required chefs to create a margarita with Patron, judges deemed Tesar's dish as the least favorite.
Host Padma Lakshmi delivered those dreaded seven words: "John, please pack your knives and go."
Our new nice guy Tesar handled the news with grace. "I'm proud of what I've done this season and how far I've come," he says.
For more food news, follow Sarah Blaskovich on Twitter at @sblaskovich.