The top three chefs --
, who made a complex haddock chowder and
Alex Guarnaschelli --
squared off on Food Network's season finale of
"Next Iron Chef: Redemption"
Sunday (Dec. 23), with Guarnaschelli serving up sea urchin to secure her victory.
"I never thought for a minute that I would win," she tells
. "In the humblest of terms, I never dreamed I would win, and when that curtain dropped [revealing my photo], you could have knocked me over."
"I did tell my parents," Guarnaschelli says. "My mom -- I called her and said, 'I am doing 'Next Iron Chef' again. And she said, 'Oh no, don't do it! You are not good at those things. Don't do it!' "
Guarnaschelli says she understand her mom's need to protect her.
"It's the worst and most fabulous experience of my life," Guarnachelli says. "It was incredibly hard. At a certain point you get a group of people like that together, at that level, and in some cases we made bizarre stuff and in some cases we were really safe."
To win the contest Guarnaschelli made a sea urchin dish.
"I thought how can I properly clean this sea urchin?" she says. "They take a long time to clean. The shell is s beautiful and such a part of the dramatic aspect. It took me 15 minutes to fully clean and get the meat from the shells. If I didn't get that right, it wouldn't matter what I did."
Guarnaschelli has been on
"The Best Thing I Ever Made," "Chopped," "Alex's Day Off" and was a sous chef on
"The Next Iron Chef."
This eight-episode Redemption show featured professional chefs who had
comethisclose to being "Iron Chef" contestants. Guarnaschelli will compete on
"Iron Chef America" with her first battle airing Dec.30.
While competing on "Redemption," Guaranaschelli pored over her cookbooks.
"I shipped a couple of boxes of cookbooks with me and flipped through them every night," she says. "I brought with me my first cookbook, things I learned in cooking school in France."