Harold Dieterle: An Interview with the Original “Top Chef”

Harold Dieterle Perilla Harold Dieterle: An Interview with the Original Top ChefAfter each season of “Top Chef” ends, you may wonder what happened to your favorite contestants. Did they go on to set the world on fire, literally and figuratively, with their cooking, opening a restaurant or scoring a spot on a cooking show? Have they returned to working behind the line at a restaurant, honing their skills and saving money for a place of their own? Or have they slipped into obscurity?

You won’t find the most successful winner, to date, of “Top Chef” on television (save for the occasional appearance). You will find him behind the line at his Greenwich Village restaurant, Perilla, which he co-owns and operates with Alicia Nosenzo. He is, in his own words, living the dream. ” Opening Perilla was my life-long dream. I enjoy the day-to-day routine – and cooking!” In contrast to some cooking-show contestants who immediately seek to build themselves into a brand, Dieterle says, “That’s just not me. I enjoy being in the kitchen every day and the instant gratification that comes with making guests at Perilla happy on a regular basis.”

Following his “Top Chef” win, he says, “I went back to working at The Harrison.” Nosenzo, Deiterle’s coworker there, went on to become his business partner. Together, they raised money and created a shared vision for “a neighborhood restaurant” they would name Perilla, which opened in May of 2007. Dieterle credits much of the restaurant’s continued success to Nosenzo, saying, “I can’t stress how important it is to have a partner. Alicia is definitely the backbone and brains of the operation. She allows me to spend all day in the kitchen cooking and doing what I love. I wouldn’t know where to begin training and hiring front-of-house personnel. She also handles all of our books and financials. She makes my life easy!”

Fortunate to avoid the pitfalls that have plagued many reality-show winners, Dieterle says, “I’ve seen people that just blow through their winnings in months. You can do food festivals every month of the year, but this doesn’t pay the bills and it’s not sustainable.” He advises future “Top Chef” cast members, “Have a game plan going into the contest, and don’t let the hype throw you off the track.” For those who don’t win but still want to capitalize on the experience, Dieterle says, “Keep your head down, and use the exposure to build your career.”

Five seasons after his “Top Chef” experience, which Dieterle admits was “tough! It looks so much easier when you’re sitting in front of the TV watching it, as opposed to living it,” he is pleased with where his career and his win have led him. “It’s nice to be the boss and cook whatever I’m in the mood to serve.”

Perilla is open seven days a week for dinner and for brunch on weekends. According to Chef Dieterle, you’ll always find duck on the menu. “It’s my favorite protein,” he reveals.

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