Kelly Liken, Fredrick Brauer, Sam Talbot, Jane Bruce
With every season, Bravo's competitive culinary mega-hit, Top Chef, launches the careers of a few budding chefs into superstardom. And season nine, the newest incarnation (in San Antonio) will certainly feature its own stars and villains (find out which cheftestants to keep an eye out for).
Say what you will about whether the outlandish timeframes and high-stakes challenges bear any relevance to what it takes to become a top chef in the real world, there's no doubt that the show has the ability to foster culinary stars. Take season four's reigning champ, Stephanie Izard, for example — although her first Chicago restaurant, Scylla, garnered much critical acclaim, Izard closed up shop in early 2008 just before filming Top Chef. Riding on the coattails of her small-screen success, the opening of Izard's second venture, Girl & The Goat in 2010, was met with great national anticipation (and has since received a James Beard Award nomination for Best New Restaurant, three stars from The Chicago Tribune, and was named "America's Best New Restaurant" by Saveur).
For some former contestants, time on the show paved the way for future television endeavors, such as Marcel Vigneron of season two, whose SyFy Channel show Marcel's Quantum Kitchen follows the chef and the team behind his molecular gastronomy catering company during their gigs. Another bright Top Chef personality, season five's Carla Hall, was tapped to co-host ABC's new daytime talk show, The Chew, with Mario Batali and Michael Symon.
Another trend among former Top Chef competitors? Opening elevated fast-casual restaurants. Season four hopeful Spike Mendelsohn opened two popular eateries in Washington, D.C., We, The Pizza, and Good Stuff Eatery (pizza and burger joints, respectively). Also from season four, Richard Blais has opened a burger place in Atlanta called Flip Burger Boutique (with the hopes of expanding) as well as a hot dog spot called HD1 in Atlanta this fall. Even season six's winner, Michael Voltaggio, hopped on the trendy bandwagon this summer with the opening of ink.sack, a sandwich shop adjacent to his newly opened restaurant, ink.
Of course, Top Chef has expanded during its (almost) nine-season-run to generate spin-off series — namely Top Chef: Just Desserts, Top Chef Masters, and Top Chef All-Stars — but this story looks at what what some of the most memorable contestants of the original show have been up to since they first competed for culinary glory.