“Top Chef” Finalists Reveal Their ‘Surprising’ Behind-the-Scenes Moments Before Season 21 Finale (Exclusive)

Chefs Danny Garcia, Dan Jacobs and Savannah Miller spoke to PEOPLE during the 2024 ‘Food & Wine’ Classic in Aspen

<p>C2 photography</p>  Savannah Miller, Danny Garcia and Dan Jacobs all traveled to Aspen for the

C2 photography

Savannah Miller, Danny Garcia and Dan Jacobs all traveled to Aspen for the 'Food & Wine' Classic

According to the three finalists competing for Top Chef's winning title, there are some aspects of filming they simply couldn't prepare for — including interacting with the famous judges.

“The first time you see those guys, it’s almost imposing,” says Dan Jacobs, who spoke to PEOPLE along with fellow finalists Danny Garcia and Savannah Miller at the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen.

For the 21st season filmed in Wisconsin, former Top Chef champ Kristin Kish joined the judges panel (following Padma Lakshmi's exit last summer) along with veterans Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons.

For Miller, receiving "tough" feedback on her cooking was one she learned to appreciate. "They were just brutally honest with us and, looking back, I think it was great. It was all constructive, and made me better," she says. "It was really good to confirm that it's as real as it looks on TV."

Jacobs adds: "When we got negative feedback, we then had to flip that around very quickly and put ourselves in a positive place where we tried to have fun, be able to compete at a high level and not let that linger with you. The most surprising to me was how mentally challenging the whole thing was."

Knowing the competition would be fierce, the finalists say they each prepared for their season in their own ways. Garcia recalls doing practice Quickfire challenges in his New York City restaurant, Jacobs searched for the perfect knife bag ("Seriously, I went out shopping for a while," he says) and Miller memorized exactly how many grams went into her "greatest hits" recipes.

Related: Tom Colicchio Reveals What The Bear Gets Right (and Wrong!) About Working in a Restaurant (Exclusive)

"I remember we were told, 'You're leaving in three weeks.' It felt so soon and I was thinking, 'Oh, I need to get my ducks in a row,'" says Garcia, who is along with Jacobs and Miller, cooked for guests at the Food & Wine Classic's opening night party on June 13.

Despite going head-to-head each week, the chefs say they were pleasantly surprised at how close the initial group of 15 contestants became while shooting — and still are today.

"I was, like, ‘Okay, it's a competition. I'm mentally prepared to compete against whoever,'" says Garcia. “Then it's one week, two weeks, three weeks later and you're, like, ‘This is my homie. These are people that I now care about.'"

Jokes Jacobs: “Trauma bond. But really, we genuinely like each other. I think people want us to be ultra competitive. But it's really nice and refreshing that we all support each other.”

<p>David Moir/Bravo</p> Danny Garcia, Laura Ozyilmaz, Dan Jacobs and Savannah Miller all competed for the finalist spots on June 12's episode of 'Top Chef'

David Moir/Bravo

Danny Garcia, Laura Ozyilmaz, Dan Jacobs and Savannah Miller all competed for the finalist spots on June 12's episode of 'Top Chef'

Miller reveals all the contestants keep in touch through a group chat aptly named “21, Can Ya Do Something For Me?" after the Drake and 21 Savage lyric in “Rich Flex.” Garcia says the chat is “very, very, very, very active” and Jacobs says it's “supportive too.”

Much of the group's bonding came while the cameras weren't rolling, while the cast was hanging out on set between challenges or evenings at their Milwaukee residence. They watched all the Saw movies — “We always kept a light on because there is always someone saying, ‘I don’t like scary movies’,” says Garcia — or played Monopoly and practiced magic tricks.

“There were times that we couldn’t talk. But you can only write notes to yourself for so long before you’re like, ‘Okay, here’s a game of hangman,’” Garcia says.

As the Top Chef finale nears closer — the winner will be revealed on Wednesday, June 19 — the finalists say they have also been receiving lots of support from fans and viewers.

Related: Top Chef Winners: Where Are They Now?

"It's been really cool, but it is weird when I go to the grocery store and people are like, 'Hey, how's it going? What's up?' And I'm like, 'Hey, what's up?' People know me, which is crazy," says Jacobs.

Events at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen run until June 16. In May, the brand announced that the first Classic in Charleston will take place Sept. 27-29 in South Carolina.

For more People news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on People.