TV

Where Are They Now? Past Top Chef Winners Reveal How The Show Changed Their Careers

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The finale of Top Chef season 13 airs tonight, and even after 13 seasons, winning the show still seems like a big deal. A moderate-sized deal, at least. Whereas the world can only support so many international pop stars, or top models, we don’t seem close to having too many chefs whose food I want to eat. We’ve all got four or five meals a day to fill, they’re going to happen somewhere. (Okay, maybe there’s a little projection in there.)

In any case, I recently had the chance to find out what many of the past Top Chef winners have been up to, and how the show has (or hasn’t) changed their careers.

SEASON 1: HAROLD DIETERLE

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Where/what were you working on when you got cast on the show?

Exec Sous Chef at The Harrison.

What are you doing now?

Principal at HD Hospitality.

How did being on the show affect your career?

Allowed me to meet some wonderful people.

This just in: I’m trying to cast Harold Dieterle in my new reality show, “When Letting Subjects Answer Interview Questions Via Email Goes Wrong.” I kid — when I lived in New York I used to go to Harold’s old restaurant, Perilla, all the time. It’s still one of the things I miss about living there, even though it’s gone now.

SEASON 3: HUNG HUYNH

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Where/what were you working on when you got cast on the show?

At the time, I was the executive sous chef at Restaurant Guy Savoy in Las Vegas.

What are you doing now?

I’m taking some time to rejuvenate and live life before my next projects begin. I’ve really been enjoying just cooking at home and traveling. I’m glad I’m able to do a lot of R&D as well.

How did being on the show affect your career?

It definitely boosted my career. I’m grateful for the instant recognition, as well as all of the connections I was able to make. And you can be sure I’m still the same “nice guy” I always was!

SEASON 4: STEPHANIE IZARD

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Where/what were you working on when you got cast on the show?

I owned a restaurant called Scylla.

What are you doing now?

Now I own Girl & The Goat, Little Goat, Duck Duck Goat and Goat Group Catering.

How did being on the show affect your career?

Being on Top Chef opens a lot of doors and gives you a wider audience than you may have had before. It was super scary when I first finished the show, having no idea what to expect, and wondering why my Facebook was blowing up. Wish I had known then what I know now.

SEASON 5: HOSEA ROSENBERG

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Where/what were you working on when you got cast on the show?

I was executive chef of Jax Fish House in Boulder, Colorado.

What are you doing now?

I am chef and owner of Blackbelly Market (restaurant & bar), Blackbelly Catering, Blackbelly Farm, and soon-to-be-open Blackbelly Butcher.

How did being on the show affect your career?

Very hard to describe. But it really affected everything. It opened up a lot of doors. I was able to leave my job and take time to be with my father, who was dying of cancer. It was really good for both of us to have that time together. After that, I set out on my own and have been working for myself since. The freedom to be your own boss is the American Dream and I couldn’t be more proud. I was also able to travel the world, meet many of my chef heroes, and experience things as a chef that I wasn’t able to do before being on the show. It changed everything.

SEASON 7: KEVIN SBRAGA

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Where/what were you working on when you got cast on the show?

I was working for Stephen Starr of Starr Restaurants at Rat’s Restaurant in Hamilton, New Jersey.

What are you doing now?

Working for myself! I currently own and operate the following restaurants: Sbraga, The Fat Ham, and Sbraga & Company.

How did being on the show affect your career?

Being on the show changed my life. It gave me the exposure I needed to open my own restaurant. It has taken me across the world and I have been able to meet and cook for people from all walks of life.

SEASON 8: RICHARD BLAIS

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Where/what were you working on when you got cast on the show?

I think I was searing some scallops when the phone rang…

What are you doing now?

Ironically, I’m searing some scallops, so weird…

How did being on the show affect your career?

It turned a staircase into an escalator…

Oh, Richard Blais. So “cute.” Basically, if you’ve ever turned on Food Network, you’ve seen his face — on Hungry Games, Guy’s Grocery Games, Guilty Pleasures, Rachel Ray, Cutthroat Kitchen, Food Network Star, The Talk…  He’s on TV a lot, is what I’m saying.

SEASON 9: PAUL QUI

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Where/what were you working on when you got cast on the show?

I was working as Executive Chef at Uchiko, expanding East Side King, my food trucks and working on my flagship Qui.

What are you doing now?

I just opened Pao, a restaurant at the Faena Hotel in Miami Beach; opening a 12-seat sushi bar called Otoko at the South Congress Hotel in Austin; and opening our first brick and mortar of Thai Kun, a spin off the East Side King family. Also working on my flagship concept Qui in Austin, Texas.

How did being on the show affect your career?

It has opened a lot of doors and has allowed me to grow more as an entrepreneur and chef.

I ate at East Side King three times while I was in Austin this past week. A classical chef using his skills to try to make the best taco or fried chicken is one of my favorite things.

SEASON 10: KRISTEN KISH

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Where/what were you working on when you got cast on the show?

I was the sous chef at Barbara Lynch’s, Stir.

What are you doing now?

Traveling to great places, cooking, filmed a season of “36 hours” as a host on Travel Channel.

How did being on the show affect your career?

With more exposure comes more recognition. It cast a very wide net for me. And fortunately in a great way. I can honestly say I wouldn’t have gotten a lot of things had no one seen me on Top Chef, win or not. I love that I have been able to cook side by side with so many of my idols.

SEASON 11: NICHOLAS ELMI

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Where/what were you working on when you got cast on the show?

I was actually thinking of leaving my job already. The opportunity to use Top Chef as a reason for an extended (read permanent) departure certainly worked in my favor.

What are you doing now?

I own Laurel in Philadelphia.

How did being on the show affect your career?

What Top Chef does is draw more attention to what you do. It gives you a platform. What you choose to do with that platform has certainly varied with each winner.

SEASON 12: MEI LIN

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Where/what were you working on when you got cast on the show?

I was working at Ink in West Hollywood. I was a sous chef for Michael Voltaggio.

What are you doing now?

Traveling, cooking, pop-ups, demos, private chef events and am currently working on getting a restaurant open in the LA market.

How did being on the show affect your career?

Being on Top Chef allowed me to reach a national audience. My new following and support are allowing me the freedom to develop a business based on my vision of food and service. It also gave me the opportunity to travel and develop a network of resources I couldn’t have developed so quickly without it.

Top Chef season 13 finale airs tonight, with Orange County’s Amar Santana taking on season favorite Jeremy Ford of Miami.

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