The five seconds after Melissa King's name was called on the Top Chef finale might have been the most nerve-wracking of her life.
Bravo's cooking competition show crowned the new winner on Thursday after an intense all-star season. The final was down to Stephanie Cmar, Bryan Voltaggio, and King, who took home the top prize for her final four-course meal in Italy of glazed octopus, squash agnolotti, grilled squab, and Hong Kong milk tea tiramisu.
Though King had more challenge wins than any other competitor in Top Chef history, and she made a guest judge cry with her final dessert, the chef tells PEOPLE it was still "anyone's game."
"I knew I had presented food that I felt very proud of, but I knew the other two, Stephanie and Bryan, did as well," she says. "So it was really anyone's game at that point."
When Padma Lakshmi said her name at the judge's table, you'd think that would be the moment of relief — but, no. (To rewatch that pivotal moment, see the clip above.)
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King, a San Francisco-based chef, placed as a finalist in the 12th season of Top Chef set in Boston. Her blend of Californian and Asian cooking made her a fan favorite then and now. In fact, she took home the official "fan-favorite" title this year, and donated the $10,000 winnings to Black Visions Collective, Asian Americans for Equality Asian Youth Center and The Trevor Project.
It's been several months since King knew she was taking home the top cash prize of $250,000 after the latest season, though much has changed since then due to the novel coronavirus. Initially, King was planning on investing it into a restaurant — after she took her family on an international trip. Both dreams unfortunately have been "put on the back burner," she says.
"It's kind of evolved," she says of her plans. "I launched a small sauce product line and it's done so well and was so well received that I just started thinking of the bigger picture of maybe I should be investing money into this and really ramping it up into a larger scale and be able to give my sauces to everybody."
The four sauces —Mala Chili Oil, Fish Sauce Caramel, Sichuan Chili Sauce, and X.O — are currently sold out, but it sounds like more are on the way.
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