Top Chef Winners: Where Are They Now?

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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

Top Chef’s George Pagonis Is Thankful for What Lies Ahead at Kapnos

Blog IMG_9941(F) copyGeorge Pagonis has always known Thanksgiving as a day of hard work. Growing up the son of Greek immigrants, he helped out in the kitchen alongside his parents and siblings at the family diner for most of the holiday. Only after the last customer was served would the family and a throng of visiting relatives sit down to eat. The table was loaded down with a mix of must-have, pilgrim-approved classics – roast turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing – and dishes favored in his parents’ homeland – dolmades (stuffed grape leaves), moussaka (a rich eggplant casserole), and roast lamb.

The Top Chef star and executive chef of the modern-minded Greek restaurant Kapnos still celebrates Thanksgiving with his family, who live in nearby Virginia. His mother, Mary, and his father, Tony, are first generation Greek immigrants. Both are from the small village of Skoura, just outside Sparta in the country’s southern reaches. “If you’ve seen movies set in Greece where the village has nothing but sheep, goats, chickens, and old ladies wearing black as church bells go off in the background, that’s what it is,” says Pagonis.

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However, Pagonis’ parents didn’t meet and get married until after they separately moved to New York City. Diners were a common business for Greek immigrants, so Tony got a job in one as a short order cook. When his brother opened a diner in Vienna, Virginia, Tony moved down to help him run it. He later opened his own in nearby Alexandria. The Four Seasons was a classic Greek diner. “The menu was an encyclopedia,” says Pagonis. “You could have a lobster tail, scrambled eggs, moussaka, baklava, and stuffed grape leaves.”

Starting around the time he was in middle school, Pagonis and his brother, Nicholas, worked as toast boys on the weekend breakfast shift. This was no small duty. The restaurant sat 300 people and there was a line out the door from 9AM until 2PM. Every egg dish came with toast, so the boys were putting out thousands of slices. Waiters would shout out orders, the boys would toss bread in the toaster, butter it up, cut it, and get the toasted triangles on the plates.

At the end of the shift, each server would tip them a few bucks. It added up. Pagonis would routinely take home $60, a small fortune for a sixth grader. “My parents took me to the mall and I bought whatever I wanted: video games, Starter jackets, Jordans,” he says. “Everyone else had to wait for their birthday to get that stuff, but I was like, ‘Eff it, I’ll buy it tomorrow.’”

Interested in learning more about cooking, he began standing on a milk crate by the chef, peeling carrots, chopping potatoes, whatever. “Anytime he needed anything, I did it,” says Pagonis. “I never said no.”

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Over the years, he learned how to make rice pudding, soups, and gravies, so, at age 14, he began working the line. When it came time to go to college, though, he left the diner behind, determined to pursue a career beyond the family business. He enrolled at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he earned a degree in business finance. Upon graduating, he applied for positions as a credit analyst. However, as he nervously sat outside one office waiting for an interview, supremely uncomfortable in his suit, he questioned his nascent career path. “I felt like an idiot,” he admits. “I thought, ‘This isn’t me.’”Continue Reading

Scenes from the OpenTable Aspen Food & Wine Classic Champagne + Sushi Party #FWClassic

The 2015 Aspen Food & Wine Classic was held this past weekend, and OpenTable was there to help celebrate the best in food and wine as curated by our friends at Food & Wine magazine. Since no celebration would be complete without bubbles, we were pleased to host our second annual Champagne-centric soiree at Matushisa Aspen with famed chef Nobu Matsuhisa. ICYMI, we present a few scenes from the OpenTable Aspen Food & Wine Classic Champagne + Sushi party.

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Chef Nobu was in the house, which makes sense because he owns it, as was OpenTable’s Leela Srinivasan.

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There was sushi, obviously.

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And chef Eric Ripert, too.

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There were a lot of other fun food + wine people there also, but the Champagne never ran dry despite our efforts.

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PSA: Don’t go chasin’ waterfalls — unless they’re Krug waterfalls. Then by all means…

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It’s not a Food & Wine party without the mag’s editor-in-chief Dana Cowin and Maria Sinskey of Sinskey Winery (Do you see what I did there?).Continue Reading

The Ultimate 2015 Aspen Food & Wine Classic Dining Guide #FWClassic

The Food & Wine Classic in Aspen starts tomorrow, running June 19-21, 2015. We’ve already rounded up three things to plan on doing ahead of the #FWClassic — including to visit OpenTable in the Grand Tasting tents to help us help you find a restaurant to dine at the end of your long, delicious days. Use the ultimate 2015 Aspen Food & Wine Classic dining guide to whet your appetite, and be sure to visit us between bites so we can book your restaurant reservations!

11x17-aspen-mapReady to find a restaurant reservation for the Aspen Food & Wine Classic now? Right this way.