The Bravo television program “Top Chef” is one of the great gifts of the aughts. It’s made armchair chefs and judges of foodies across America — and likely around the world, and it’s made Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, and Gail Simmons into household names.
With the sixth season finale set to air tonight, we tracked down some former contestants to let you know where you can judge their fare for yourself. Keep in mind, not every contestant has headed back to a restaurant kitchen. Some have decided to step out from behind the line and in front of the camera. Others are consulting. A few are traveling around the world to expand their culinary horizons. And, a number have changed jobs so frequently that we cannot keep track of their current whereabouts.
While many of the Season 1 San Francisco alums are no longer cooking in a restaurant for a living, winner Harold Dieterle is. He is chef and co-owner of Perilla in Manhattan. Serving up seasonal American cuisine in the heart of Greenwich Village, Perilla is a true neighborhood gem that enjoys a steady stream of regulars. Shot in Los Angeles, Season 2 had a cast of memorable faves, including handsome also-ran Sam Talbot (who runs a restaurant in a Montauk, NY resort), villain Marcel Vigneron, who recently left his post as sous chef at The Bazaar by José Andrés in Beverly Hills, and winner Ilan Hall, who is working to open a restaurant in Los Angeles. Tre Wilcox, whose premature knife-packing shocked fans of Season 3 (shot in Miami), is helming the kitchen at the sexy Loft 610 Urban Restaurant and Lounge in Plano, Texas. Love-to-hate-him Hung Hyunh, who took home the grand prize, is overseeing Anja Bar (formerly known as the popular Buddha Bar) in New York City’s Meatpacking District.
The city of Chicago played host to Season 4 and its talented and occasionally caustic castmates. Erik Hopfinger is bringing a brand new brunch to Nova Bar and Restaurant, a hotspot in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood. He’s also helping revamp the restaurant’s menus. San Franciscan diners can also enjoy feisty faux-hawked Jennifer Biesty’s ingredient-driven cuisine at Scala’s Bistro in Union Square. Biesty’s opponent on the show/partner in real-life Zoi Antonitsas now serves as executive chef at Zazu in California’s wine country, where she cooks rustic Northern Italian cuisine with sustainable ingredients from Zazu’s chef’s garden. Manhattan attracted its fair share of Top Chef-testants as well, with Manuel Trevino landing the executive chef position at newly opened Travertine, a hip Bowery boîte with a Mediterranean menu. Gifted-but-gruff Dale Talde is a sous chef at Buddakan NY, one of the city’s most grand and gorgeous dining spots, and likable Lisa Fernandes, the runner-up, is a sous chef at Dos Caminos, serving can’t-miss Mexican in midtown.
Season 5, filmed in and around the Big Apple, had several breakout stars. Sultry Jill Snyder is a chef at Baltimore’s Woodberry Kitchen, where local ingredients, not Ostrich eggs, are de rigueur. Speaking of ingredients, Jamie “Top Scallop” Lauren, is the executive chef at Absinthe Brasserie in San Francisco, where she has worked since July 2007. Lauren, a born-and-bred New Yorker, continues to serve cutting-edge yet accessible cuisine at this Hayes Valley favorite. Farther south in California, Stefan Richter, known for his unerring confidence and banana lollipops, has his own restaurant, Stefan’s at L.A. Farm, where he serves up classic ingredients with an unusual twist (oysters with Absinthe Jell-O, anyone?). The witty and whimsical Fabio Viviani has two Italian (‘natch!) restaurants under his belt Café Firenze and Firenze Osteria. He is also the culinary consultant for Santa Margherita wines, providing pairing recommendations and recipes. Stay tuned, too, for Fabio’s upcoming BravoTV show, “A Catered Affair.” Winner (and favorite of contestant Leah Cohen) Hosea Rosenberg is a multi-tasker with several projects cooking, but he still finds time to work as the executive chef at Jax Fish House in Boulder, Colorado.
Season 6 of “Top Chef” is being filmed in Sin City (aka Las Vegas). In the interest of not attempting to uncover any spoilers about tonight’s finale (or making the nice people at Bravo mad!), we have listed the restaurants the current contestants worked in just prior to joining the cast of “Top Chef.” Eve Aronoff is chef/owner of Eve in Ann Arbor, Michigan, where you’ll find contemporary cuisine prepared using French techniques. Jennifer Carroll, who was eliminated in the first part of the season finale, is the chef de cuisine at 10 Arts by Eric Ripert in Philadelphia’s Ritz Carlton. Ash Fulk, perhaps Padma’s least favorite contestant, is a sous chef at Trestle on Tenth, preparing American and European specialties with Swiss care and French flair in Chelsea’s gallery district. Ron Duprat is executive chef at Latitudes Beach Café at the Hollywood Beach Marriot in Florida, where he serves fresh ingredients with a Caribbean twist. In Hotlanta, check out Hector Santiago, who joined the show to make his customers proud (and did!) and his restaurant Pura Vida, which features to-die-for tapas. You can sample contestant Michael Isabella’s food at the José Andrés restaurant Zaytinya in Washington, D.C. (at which he prepares authentic Mediterranean mezze — and vegetables — expertly!). Maltin Noblia can be found preparing Basque food (and dreaming of Jessica Alba) at his restaurant Illuna Basque in San Francisco. Finally, finalist Kevin Gillespie is executive chef and a partner at Woodfire Grill in the ATL, where local, organic ingredients are the stars of the menu. Bryan Voltaggio is a chef/partner at VOLT in Frederick, Maryland, and his equally inked brother Michael Voltaggio is chef de cuisine at The Dining Room at The Langham in Pasadena, California. Both specialize in new American cuisine.
Tune in to Bravo tonight to find out if your favorite contestant wins. And, check back for interviews with former “Top Chef” winners and competitors.