By Chef Brother Luck

“Brother, please pack your knives and go.” Padma Lakshmi stares directly into my eyes as she bids me another farewell. I’m overwhelmed by feelings of disappointment in myself and mental exhaustion—again. A second-chance loser.

I’ve just lost Bravo’s Top Chef for the second time in a year. Why did I say yes when the producers asked me to come back for another season? Why was it so important that I prove myself on this show, regardless of how that choice would affect others?

Standing in front of the judges’ table, I’m graciously thanking Tom Colicchio, Padma, Graham Elliot, and Ken Oringer for the opportunity, but inside I am completely broken. I keep it together as I slowly walk off the set, but I’m telling myself that I had never been good enough to be there or have a chance of winning. I don’t come from a high-profile, Michelin-starred restaurant, or have the endorsement of working for a celebrity chef. I am simply an ordinary chef with large-volume production experience. I may have a ton of heart, but I am an imposter.

Get Chef Brother Luck’s recipe for Ute Tribe Blue Cornbread in the new cookbook Toques in Black!

As I walk into the trailer to film my exit interview, I begin to break down. “I’m done, I can’t do this anymore, I can’t keep feeling rejected, ” I tell the show’s producer. My entire tough-guy persona—the “ Last Chance Kitchen Bogeyman”—begins to wash away, revealing a scared man who doesn’t know how to handle this surge of emotion. I’ve just completed a historic run on Last Chance Kitchen ( LCK ), earning a spot back in the contest, only to be kicked off Top Chef on the very same episode. The producers are already suggesting that I can do it again and regain my title as LCK champion, but how many last chances do I get before it’s really over? I start hyperventilating; my anxiety skyrockets. I can’t keep putting myself through this gauntlet for the benefit of entertaining strangers. For the first time in a long time, I am truly scared about where that path would lead me.

About two years ago, my therapist diagnosed me with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I laughed and told him that I’d never enlisted or seen active duty like many of my military friends who “actually suffer from PTSD.” He pointed to the scars left by my childhood: the death of my father; the loss of relationships with […]

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