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

Harold-Dieterle-PerillaAfter 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.

Top Chef Restaurants: Where Your Favorite Contestants Are Cooking

NUP_137267_0743The 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.

Side Dish: Not Just for Steakhouses

side-dishI dined out at Perilla last night, the restaurant co-owned by Harold Dieterle, winner of the first season of “Top Chef.” Mr. Dieterle is also the restaurant’s executive chef. Accompanying me were three chef-friends, all of whom had been my classmates at the French Culinary Institute. Naturally, then, we dined in courses, with each of us making sure there weren’t any duplicates at the table.

Of course, every course was delectable, but what really made the meal beyond memorable for me were the side dishes (creamed corn and farro risotto). I don’t usually order a side unless I’m in a steakhouse — and that’s all going to change going forward. After dining at a restaurant with a carefully crafted menu, such as Perilla, I realized the side dishes are not an afterthought or filler. They’re on the menu because they’re standouts that will complement any of the main courses. You can be sure of this, in particular, when you see but a few intriguing sides listed on a menu.

Have you dined at any restaurants with to-die-for side dishes? Tell us about it here or join the discussion on Facebook.

Where to Eat Like a ‘Top Chef’ Judge in New York

tom-padma-gail.jpgThe New York Times checks in on some former “Top Chef” contestants cooking in Manhattan, including recent contender Leah Cohen, now head chef at Centro Vinoteca, Season 1 winner Harold Dieterle, head chef and co-owner of Perilla, and Season 3 winner Hung Huynh, who currently cooks at Solo. Bottom line: It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock and roll, but, apparently, it’s an even longer way if you want to be a standout chef in the Big Apple.

To show your support for your former faves, book a table the next time you’re in the city that never sleeps — and enjoy the chance to channel your inner Gail, Padma or Tom.