What’s better than marrying reality television with food? It’s a concept that has caught on quickly in TV-land as well as with audiences. As a result, viewers have been treated to cooking competition shows that have managed to maintain a large and devoted following. Hits like Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, and The Next Food Network Star have spawned some great chefs (along with a few TV spin-offs) that have revealed solid potential. So where are they now? Let’s check in on some of the biggest contenders.
During the first seasons of their respective shows, these three winners blazed a path for their successors:
Harold Dieterle, Top Chef: Dieterle has been so busy being a chef that he’s cut down the time he spends on Top Chef–related events. Following his win in 2005, the season one titleholder opened his own restaurant, Perilla, a well-received American bistro in New York City. Perilla has become so successful, Dieterle opened another restaurant in 2010. This one, a Thai place called Kin Shop, has also received good early reviews. Known for his love of Asian flavors, Dieterle’s latest venture is likely to thrive.
Michael Wray, Hell’s Kitchen: A quick search of the season one winner brings up the biggest question, “Where’s Michael Wray today?” Truthfully, no one quite knows. When we last saw him on TV, he had just scored an opportunity to go to London and apprentice under Gordon Ramsay, but he later declined the offer for the sake of raising a family. After a couple of head-chef turns in prominent Los Angeles restaurants like The Standard, there have only been scant reports of Wray’s career path. He reportedly went to Arizona to pursue his dream of opening his own restaurant, slated to be called HK1. (Get it?) Sadly, he was unable to get the funding together and is now rumored to be teaching cooking classes at an Arizona college.
The Hearty Boys, The Next Food Network Star: These boys were already well established before they competed on the Food Network series. Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh created their moniker as a tribute to The Hardy Boys mystery series, applying the same name to their Chicago catering business. After winning the first season of Network Star, they were given their own Food Network show, Party Line with the Hearty Boys, and wrote a successful cookbook, Talk With Your Mouth Full. They’ve also made guest appearances on everything from Kathy Griffin’s My Life on the D-List to The Early Show.
There are winners, and then there are stars. These contestants didn’t just manage to snag the top title; they also managed to make real impressions in the culinary, and in some cases, celebrity worlds.
Guy Fieri, The Next Food Network Star (season two): Sure, the winner’s fate is in the title, but when it comes to this Food Network competition, Fieri is more Kelly Clarkson than Taylor Hicks. He’s by far the biggest breakout star of this series, gaining so much fame, both inside the kitchen and out, that his name doesn’t even need to be prefaced with the descriptor “The Next Food Network Star’s.” He even has his own game show, serving as host of NBC’s Minute to Win It. Too bad you can’t say the same about fellow winners like Amy Finley.
Michael Voltaggio, Top Chef (season six): It’s unfortunate that this Bravo series doesn’t allow pairs to compete like, say, The Next Food Network Star does (see above-mentioned Hearty Boys), but wow, watching Voltaggio compete against his fellow contestant and equally talented brother, Bryan, sure did make for great drama. Audiences were enthralled by the competition between the two, which earned Top Chef a newfound energy and ultimately its first Emmy award for Best Reality Competition Program. Michael stepped away victorious, but he continues to play nicely with his brother. Together, the two run a popular food blog. Michael has also served as the chef de cuisine at the Langham Hotel in Pasadena, California. He recently left to pursue other opportunities, which is rumored to be his own restaurant, so we’ll continue to keep an eye on him.
Christina Machamer, Hell’s Kitchen (season four): Machamer wins a slot here because she’s had the most success outside of television. She followed through with her apprenticeship with Ramsay, working at the London West Hollywood Hotel after her 2008 win. Known as the contestant with the least amount of culinary experience at the time of the show, she stayed on with London West, and was serving as an executive sous chef there when it a Michelin star in 2009. She’s now working as a chef de partie at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Beverly Hills and also has her own line of spices, called BCBC Blends.
It takes a lot of determination to compete in anything, let alone to do it in front of your profession’s most respected experts and a national audience. So credit is due to all contestants who put themselves through the ringer to win top cooking prizes. Here’s hoping more of them turn their wins into longtime success stories, as well.