Season 13 of Bravo’s hit reality cooking series Top Chef premiered this month, 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. Harole 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 on Top 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.”
4. Stephanie Izard
In Top Chef: Chicago, Chef Stephanie Izard was named winner over Lisa Fernandes and Richard Blais after a Puerto Rico finale featuring famous New York chefs Eric Ripert, Dan Barber and April Bloomfield. Notably, Stephanie was the first female chef to win Top Chef, and she’s also among the most high-profile alums from the show.
She worked at Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant Vong before moving opening her first restaurant, Scylla, in Chicago’s Bucktown (she was only 27). Reviews were positive, although Scylla shuttered in 2007, and Stephanie opened her flagship Girl and the Goat with the BOKA Group after her Top Chef win. Again, she received rave reviews for the restaurant, following it with another project, Little Goat, in 2011.
In 2012, Stephanie was nominated for the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: Great Lakes award, and she took home the title in 2013.
Up next: Stephanie is getting ready to open Duck Duck Goat, a Chinese-inspired concept with handmade noodles and dumplings — and a takeout window. It’s currently slated for early 2016, and preview tickets go on sale soon.
5. Hosea Rosenberg
In this New York-based season, Hosea Rosenberg wowed judges over Stefan Richter and Carla Hall (now a food television darling). They went head to head in New Orleans, with runners-up from previous seasons as sous chefs.
Hosea worked under established chefs such as Wolfgang Puck before becoming Executive Chef at Jax Fish House. After Top Chef, he opened a catering business, Blackbelly Catering, followed by Blackbelly Farm. His first restaurant — appropriately, Blackbelly Market — came to life in 2011 with a true farm-to-table philosophy, in which the team raises their own livestock and grows organic vegetables for the restaurant.
Up next: In September Hosea announced Blackbelly’s plans to expand its butcher operations, taking over the space next door to the restaurant. Breakfast and lunch operations will move into the new space, along with offerings such as pickles, cured meats and cheeses.
6. Michael Voltaggio
One of the most memorable competitions in Top Chef history was when Michael Voltaggio took on his brother Bryan, along with Chef Kevin Gillespie, in Las Vegas, concluding the season in Napa. Their mother surprised them with an appearance at the finale, turning the occasion into a full-on family affair.
Both Voltaggios grew up in Maryland; Bryan attended culinary school, but Michael didn’t. Instead, he apprenticed at The Greenbrier and cooked at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen. During his time as Chef de Cuisine at The Bazaar by Jose Andres, the restaurant was nominated by the James Beard Foundation for the Best New Restaurant award.
After Top Chef, Michael worked as Chef de Cuisine at The Dining Room in Pasadena and later decided to open his own restaurant, ink., in West Hollywood. The restaurant was highly acclaimed, and Michael followed up with a sandwich shop, ink.sack, just a few doors down.
Up next: Last month, Michael and Bryan announced they are planning to open a steakhouse at MGM National Harbor casino in their home state, Maryland. Although Bryan has nine restaurants of his own, this will be the brothers’ first joint venture.
7. Kevin Sbraga
Starting in Washington D.C., this season culminated in Chef Kevin Spraga coming out as champion over Ed Cotton and Angelo Sosa in Singapore — the series’ first international venue.
Kevin became Culinary Director of Jose Garces’ Garces Restaurant Group in 2008. (He also won Best Meat Presentation at the Bocuse d’Or USA.) At the time that he joined Top Chef, he was the Executive Chef at Rat’s in Hamilton, New Jersey, and after the show wrapped he decided, like many others, that it was time to do his own thing.
In October 2011 Kevin opened his eponymous restaurant Sbraga, earning accolades from Bon Appetit, Zagat and Esquire. He has since opened two additional restaurants, The Fat Ham and Sbraga & Company, both showcasing creative dishes inspired by Southern cuisine and traditions.
Up next: Sbraga & Company just opened in November in Jacksonville, so Kevin is taking on an entirely new market. The project is a partnership with Colicchio Consulting — helmed by Phil Colicchio (cousin of Top Chef‘s Tom Colicchio) — which unites business developers and culinary talent.
8. Richard Blais
Season 8 was Top Chef: All-Stars — all of the contestants were chefs who had competed in previous seasons but missed out on the title. The prize money also doubled from $100,000 to $200,000. Filmed in New York and concluding in The Bahamas, the season saw Chef Richard Blais beat Mike Isabella in the final episode.
Blais, a New Yorker, graduated from the CIA and trained at an impressive list of establishments, including The French Laundry, Daniel, Chez Panisse, and elBulli. He moved to Atlanta in 2000 and founded his own culinary company Trail Blais, opening Flip Burger (with locations in Atlanta, Birmingham and Nashville) and Juniper & Ivy (San Diego).
He first appeared on the fourth season of Top Chef, where he was the runner-up to Chef Stephanie Izard. After winning All-Stars, he became a regular food TV star, hosting the show Cook Your Ass Off on HLN and the Food Network’s Halloween Baking Championship, and of course, judging Top Chef. He published a cookbook, Try This at Home: Recipes from My Head to Your Plate, which was nominated for a 2014 James Beard Award.
Up next: Last month Richard opened another San Diego restaurant, The Crack Shack, an all-day chicken and eggs concept that marks his first foray into the fast-casual space.
9. Paul Qui
In Season 9, Top Chef: Texas, Chef Paul Qui took the Top Chef title over Sarah Grueneberg. With 29 chefs total, there were many more contestants this season than in previous ones. Bravo also introduced the “Last Chance Kitchen” webcasts, in which eliminated contestants continued to compete and the final winner was invited back to the competition.
Paul was born in the Philippines and grew up in Virginia before moving to Austin for culinary school. He trained under Chef Tyson Cole at Uchi and helmed the kitchen at Uchiko, where he won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest. During that time, he and Moto Utsunomiya started a side project: East Side King, a food truck that’s grown into a five-location concept.
He was already planning to open his own restaurant when he joined Top Chef, but the experience took him in a new direction and gave him the visibility to be able to do so. (Tom Colicchio later called Paul the most talented chef to ever compete on the show.) After Top Chef he opened the doors to qui, an Asian-inspired that has received wide acclaim for its inventive tasting menu.
Up next: Earlier this year Paul announced plans to open Otoko, a 12-seat omakase-style restaurant, in Austin’s South Congress Hotel. In the summer, Food & Wine reported that he is also opening a restaurant outside of Texas for the first time — he’s joining chefs Gabriel Ask and Francis Mallman to start concepts in the Faena Hotel. His is called Pao.
10. Kristen Kish
This Seattle-based season saw Chef Kristen Kish trump Brooke Williamson in the finale. It also added another layer to the “Last Chance Kitchen” series: viewers could vote to save chefs from elimination, and the contestants with the most votes were invited back to the final round of the webcast.
Born in Seoul, South Korea, Kristen grew up in Michigan and studied cooking in Chicago. (She was also a model in high school.) She worked as an instructor at Stir, a demo kitchen and cookbook store founded by Chef Barbara Lynch, before going on to be named Chef de Cuisine at Lynch’s restaurant Menton. She helmed the back-of-house there until 2014.
In 2015 she co-hosted a new Travel Channel series, 36 Hours, based on the New York Times column.
Up next: Last week the Boston Globe reported that Kristen landed a publisher for the cookbook she’s been working on, a collection of “100 technique-driven recipes.”
11. Nicholas Elmi
In the 11th season in New Orleans, Chef Nicholas Elmi won over Nina Compton and Bravo introduced “Padma’s Picks,” a web series in which local chefs competed for the chance to join the official roster of contestants. His win was actually somewhat controversial; Nicholas had survived a few near-eliminations and was considered the underdog of the season.
He has an impressive resume, having cooked at Guy Savoy Paris, Oceana and Lutece, among other restaurants. His own Philadelphia restaurant Laurel debuted just a month after Top Chef premiered; it’s a French-inspired BYOB concept with a small, intimate dining room. In March of this year he transitioned to a tasting menu-only format at Laurel.
Up next: Last year Eater reported that Nicholas was planning to open a second restaurant, but nothing has been announced. He is, however, expanding Laurel into the space next door, giving him room for a bar.
12. Mei Lin
In the last full season, set in Boston, Chef Mei Lin was named Top Chef over Gregory Gourdet, and former winner Richard Blais came back as a recurring judge.
Mei grew up outside Detroit, and she comes from a culinary family. She worked alongside her father at the family’s owned-and-operated restaurant before going on to cook with Michael Symon at Roast; Marcus Samuelsson at C-House; and Wolfgang Puck at Spago Las Vegas. She was part of the opening team at ink., the restaurant launched by former Top Chef winner Michael Voltaggio, and was ultimately named Sous Chef.
After her win, Mei told Eater that she wants to open a restaurant of her own but didn’t share any specific details — only that she wants it to be casual, with quick-service lunch and full-service dinner.
Up next: No one knows, but it’s going to be good.