The Bravo television series “Top Chef” just chose its latest winner. Mei Lin, who took the Season 12 crown, is just the third woman to win the culinary competition, which was set in Boston.
Viewers often wonder what happens to the winners and the other cheftestants after the cameras stop rolling. I got a unique view of the answer to this after working in Frederick, Maryland, — home of Season 5 winner Michael Voltaggio and his brother, runner-up Bryan.
While Michael took his talents to Los Angeles, Bryan stayed in Frederick.
In Los Angeles, Michael opened the critically acclaimed restaurant ink, named America’s best new restaurant by GQ Magazine in March 2012. (Lin, who frequently mentioned Voltaggio during this past season, has been the sous chef.)
He also opened ink.sack, a sandwich shop near ink. There’s also an outpost of ink.sack at Los Angeles International Airport.
In Frederick, Bryan built up a small restaurant empire, when he opened the acclaimed Volt in July 2008, followed by the the sandwich shop Lunchbox, and restaurants Family Fare, Aggio and Range.
Beyond the brothers, others have leveraged the attention.
Atlanta-based Richard Blais, from Season 4, was a fan favorite but lost out in 2008 to Stephanie Izard, the first woman to win the Top Chef title. He was one of 18 past contestants brought back for “Top Chef All-Stars,” which he won in 2011.
Since then, Blais has opened five restaurants, written a James Beard-nominated cookbook, founded culinary consultancy Trail Blais and served as a judge on this season’s Top Chef Boston.
He’s also been featured on several television shows, including “Life After Top Chef,” “Iron Chef America,” “Guy’s Grocery Games,” “Cook Your Ass Off,” and “The Hungry Games.”
Since winning “Top Chef” in Season 4, Izard returned home to Chicago, where she opened the award-winning restaurant Girl and the Goat in 2010.
The restaurant was nominated for a James Beard best new restaurant award the following year, and she was named one of Food & Wine magazine’s best new chefs. Izard has opened Little Goat, published a cookbook and appeared on “Iron Chef America.”
Some cheftestants have moved beyond the restaurant world.
Although catering company owner Carla Hall was a finalist and fan favorite in Season 5, New York City, and competed in Top Chef All Stars. She has parlayed her turns on Top Chef into co-hosting “The Chew,” a show on ABC-TV, along with publishing a cookbook and appearing in television commercials.
Sam Talbot was a semi-finalist on Season 2 of Top Chef Los Angeles who was was voted “fan favorite” and was eventually named one of People Magazine’s “Sexiest Men Alive.” He was the founding executive chef of The Surf Lodge in Montauk, N.Y., published a book on diabetic cooking and serves as an advocate for Type 1 diabetes.
Casey Thompson was a finalist and fan favorite in Season 3 in Miami and appeared on Top Chef All-Stars. She has done some restaurant consulting and serves as the chef at San Francisco’s Aveline.
Arnold Myint appeared in Season 7 in Washington, D.C., and is the executive chef and owner of four restaurants in Nashville, Tennessee. He is active in the community, supporting charities including Nashville Cares, Pencil Foundation, Nashville Pride, Our Kid’s Center and Soles4Souls.
As Top Chef endures, every part of the country seems to boast a cheftestant, if not a winner, providing ample opportunities for stories.