Top Chef Winners: Where Are They Now?

Top Chef Pic

Season 13 of Bravo’s hit reality cooking series Top Chef premiered last month (and, after a brief holiday hiatus, the season returns with episode 5, “Big Gay Wedding” Thursday night) which made us wonder: What do winners do after taking home the grand prize? We took a trip down memory lane to catch up on all of the champions, way back to the first season in 2006.

A few learnings: More often than not, Top Chef winners go on to open their own restaurant (or two or three of them). Only three out of 12 Top Chefs are women, and some are more high-profile than others. Some have won James Beard Awards while others have found careers in television. Many have opened or are planning on opening fast-casual concepts.

Here’s an overview of Top Chef winners, then and now.

1. Harold Dieterle

New York native Harold Dieterle won the first season of Top Chef, set in San Francisco in 2006, after besting runner-up Tiffani Faison in the final challenge in Las Vegas. Following stints at Della Femina in the Hamptons and Red Bar and 1770 House in New York City, he worked as a sous chef at The Harrison, also in NYC.

After taking home the $100,000 prize, Harold became a New York City restaurateur. He opened his first restaurant, Perilla, in 2007, and three years later he opened a Thai restaurant called Kin Shop. Later he opened a third concept, The Marrow.

Sadly, none of Harold’s restaurants have stood the test of time. In October 2014, he said goodbye to The Marrow, and last month he announced he would be closing Perilla and Kin Shop as well. In an interview with Eater, he attributed his decision to the rising cost of doing business in New York, adding, “It’s gotten to the point where I’m not having fun and enjoying myself. I’m not saying I never want to return to the restaurant business, but right now, I’m feeling a little beat up and a little tired.”

Up next: Harold and his wife are expecting their first child in February, so he’s planning to take some time off. But he expressed interest in opening a fast-casual concept down the road.

2. Ilan Hall

Filmed in Los Angeles, season two was the first time we saw Padma Lakshmi — now a star onTop Chef and beyond — take over as host. Ilan Hall (also a New Yorker) beat Marcel Vigneron in the season finale in Hawaii, amid plenty of heated rivalry between the two contestants. (Fun fact: Ilan and Marcel studied at the CIA at the same time. Apparently they have since made amends.)

Ilan was a line cook at New York City’s Casa Mono before winning Top Chef. In 2009, he opened his first restaurant, The Gorbals, in Los Angeles, but it closed within a week — the county health department shut it down due to an inadequate water heater. Happily it reopened a couple of months later, and in 2014, he opened a second location in Brooklyn. The same year, he announced he would be moving the location of the L.A. restaurant and changing the menu to be almost entirely vegan (it hasn’t reopened yet).

Now, Ilan is the host of Knife Fight, another reality cooking show in which two cooks square off, preparing dishes using a few designated ingredients in just one hour.

Up next: This week, Ilan announced he’s shutting The Gorbals in Brooklyn, changing the concept and the name. Esh — Hebrew for “fire” — will serve Israeli-Middle Eastern barbecue.

3. Hung Huynh

Season three of Top Chef took place in Miami and ended in Aspen, where Hung Huynh, a Vietnamese-American chef, beat two runners-up: Dale Levitski and Casey Thompson. Hung cooked at Per Se and Gilt in New York and held the post of Executive Sous Chef at Guy Savoy Las Vegas before joining the show.

After Top Chef, Hung competed in the 2008 Bocuse d’Or USA contest, with the aim of representing the United States at the international competition the following year. He lost out to Chef Timothy Hollingsworth but went on open a number restaurants with the EMM Group — The General, Catch, Lexington Brass — helping the group expand globally.

After four years, he cut his ties with the group in February 2015, frustrated that he wasn’t “taken seriously by somewhere like the New York Times” working with the large business.

Up next: There’s no word on Hung’s next project, but he wants it to be national in scope. He added, “I think the direction is going toward much more simple and healthy fare. I think the direction is more casual and less expensive.”Continue Reading

Puck Yeah! Wolfgang Puck Talks Trends

Blog WP_by Greg Gorman copyNo matter where you look, there’s Wolfgang Puck. Announcing plans to open his first restaurant in New York City, doing a cooking demonstration on a morning show, making a pitch on QVC for his latest product, guesting on The Simpsons, gracing a slew of cookbooks at Barnes & Noble, catering the Academy Awards Governors Ball, beaming back at you from products galore in the grocery store, making an appearance at one of his many restaurants around the world, including The Source in Washington, D.C., Cut in Las Vegas, or Chinois in Los Angeles. The man is everywhere.

This omnipresence is even more amazing given the fact that the Austrian-born toque has been headlining the celebrity chef circuit for three and a half decades – before that circuit even existed. In fact, he helped create it. Before Top Chef and the Food Network – both of which he later appeared on – Puck became a household name by becoming the forward-thinking face of California cuisine by debuting his now-iconic Spago on the Sunset Strip in 1982. Like Puck himself, it’s still going strong, though it’s now located in Beverly Hills, and there are spinoffs in Los Vegas, Maui, Singapore, Istanbul, and Avon, Colorado. That dazzling debut earned him a frenzied fan base, which helped launch a career as a restaurateur, television personality, cookbook author, and the face of dozens of products.

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Over the course of more than 30 years in the spotlight, Puck has never been short of opinions. He’s always happy to share them in his practically trademarked Austrian accent. Here Wolfgang Puck talks trends, sharing his biggest likes and dislikes from over the course of his career.

LIKES

Spice is Nice
“I enjoy spicier food than I used to. Whenever I go to an Italian restaurant, the first thing I ask for is crushed red pepper.”

Not-too-sweet Sweets
“I love dark chocolate with minimum 70 percent cocoa. It can have a filling, but it can’t be too sweet. I don’t like sweet for sweet. I like sweet with flavor. If it’s overly sweet, you can’t taste anything. That’s why milk chocolate doesn’t taste like chocolate. So I always tell our pastry chefs that if you have caramel and salt, it’s better than caramel by itself.”Continue Reading

Star Wars Menus: #TheForceAwakens with 8 Star Wars Dishes + Drinks

Star Wars Menus

There’s a disturbance in the Force. In case you haven’t been close to a screen, browsed the Internet, walked the aisles of your grocery store, or talked to anyone, there’s a new Star Wars film coming out today. The Force Awakens picks up more than three decades after The Return of the Jedi left off. There’s a lot of speculation as to what will happen in the seventh installment in the saga, but one thing is for certain: it’s going to be a massive box office smash. Its release has spurred a number of culinary Jedi to find inspiration from the iconic trilogy. (Let’s just pretend the prequels never happened.) and create Star Wars menus for fans of the force.

Faith & Flower, Los Angeles, California
Like a tractor beam pulling you in, you won’t be able to resist this Star Wars themed off-menu mignardise board by pastry chef Josh Graves. Feel the Force awaken in you while savoring a chocolate Millennium Falcon, white chocolate Stormtrooper, a caramel-filled dark chocolate Darth Vader, an absinthe candy lightsaber, a Death Star bonbon, and a Han Solo frozen in carbonite, erm, dark chocolate. Thankfully, he decided not to include a Jabba the Hutt gummy.

Star Wars Menus

The Lot, San Diego, California
The Lord of the Sith inspired pastry chef Alejandra Pitashny to create this Dark Side Chocolate Cake layered with raspberries and blackberries. Only at the end of eating it do you realize the power of the Dark Side. Which means you might have to order another slice. Consider it part of your training to become a Sith lord.

Star Wars Menus

Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, Virginia
Think you geek out about Star Wars? You’ve got nothing on chef Cathal Armstrong, who binge watches the saga with his son over Christmas break every year. To celebrate the release of The Force Awakens, he is serving Aunt Beru’s Fennel Soup as an amuse bouche through December. When A New Hope was being filmed in 1976 in Tunisia, the prop masters were tasked with coming up with a soup that Luke’s aunt would make on Tatooine. Fennel was relatively unknown in the States at that time, so it was chosen as a vegetable that could conceivably be utilized in a galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars Menus

Little Goat Bakery, Chicago, Illinois
Stephanie Izard offers Wookie Pies, which take their name from Han Solo’s bowcaster-toting compadre Chewbacca. Or, as Princess Leia calls him, a “big walking carpet.” The pies are formed by sandwiching a pair of chocolate cakes sandwich around a generous slather of chocolate cream. Since Chewie is known for getting in trouble for always thinking with his stomach, we’re certain he’d love them.

Star Wars MenusContinue Reading

The Perfect Present: What 8 Celebrity Chefs Want for the Holidays

The phrase ‘celebrity chef’ might conjure images of a glamorous life filled with fan-packed book signings, high profile television appearances and hanging out with Hollywood A-listers. But no matter how big a star you are in the culinary world, the job still requires long hours in the kitchen doing backbreaking work. By the time December rolls around, these top toques are looking forward to some rest and relaxation just like everyone else. As they gather around the Christmas tree, Hanukkah menorah, or Festivus pole, they’re hoping to find a thoughtful gift from their loved ones. Here’s what 8 celebrity chefs want for the holidays. Santa and co., we hope you’re listening.

Michael Schlow, The Riggsby + Tico, Washington, D.C.
“In our house we celebrate both Christmas and Hanukkah, and every year my friends and family ask me, ‘What do you want as a gift this year?’ I’ve got the most important gift, which is my amazing family and my health, and Santa knows I’ve also received my fair share of good wines and sharp sweaters every year. Since I have no control on world peace – and my silent prayers for a simple, fair, flat tax code continue to go unanswered – I keep looking around at what I really want for the holidays this year. I really don’t want for much, but I’d be thrilled with a new pair of Todd Rogers frames, a big gift certificate to Korin, my favorite Japanese cutlery shop, in New York City, and a couple of nights away, just me and my wife.”

What 8 Celebrity Chefs Want for the Holidays

Michael Mina, MICHAEL MINA, San Francisco, California
“When I traveled to Lebanon, I visited the market and met the most amazing spice vendor and got an incredible Middle Eastern Barbecue spice mix. I have been trying to track down that vendor ever since and would love to get more of that mix. Maybe Santa can help me out with this one….”

What 8 Celebrity Chefs Want for the Holidays

Spike Mendelsohn, Béarnaise, Washington, D.C.
“This Festivus I want a new longboard. Next year, I’m taking my wife surfing in Fiji, so a new board would make the trip even more amazing. I’d also like more reservations through OpenTable. Full house, baby!”

What 8 Celebrity Chefs Want for Christmas

Marc Forgione, American Cut, New York, New York
“ I want the Chevy that Chief Brody drives in Jaws because it’s one of my favorite movies, and I always thought it was one of the coolest cars I’ve ever seen. However, I would paint mine black.”

What 8 Celebrity Chefs Want for the HolidaysContinue Reading