Having helped the culinary arts in America evolve from a lifeless utilitarian slog into a nationally televised spectator sport, Top Chef is still going strong after 14 years.
Top Chef will be returning to Los Angeles for its 17th season. Gail Simmons will make her triumphant return from maternity leave, once again riding shotgun with Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi. Joining them will be an all-star cast of past contestants from across the show’s history, representing 13 of the previous seasons. The show will travel to Italy for the finale (good thing they taped this months ago) and the stakes are higher than ever, as the winner walks away with a quarter-million dollars. Here’s a look at some of the favorites from this year’s field of competitors:
Season 3 fourth-place finisher
With his camera-ready smile, his collection of hipster hats tilted just so, and his outsized personality, Malarkey was a TV natural. On top of that, he was a legitimately talented chef, all of which combined to make him one of Top Chef’s first breakout stars. He now runs a successful restaurant empire in San Diego and pops up all over the TV landscape to talk about food or serve as a judge on cooking competitions.
Lee Anne Wong
Season 1 fourth-place finisher, Season 15 withdrawal
Though she came up short in her Top Chef debut, Wong made an impression by winning three Quick Fires, as she spent the next few years serving as a producer on the show. She competed again in 2018, in Top Chef: Colorado, but had to withdraw during episode 6 due to altitude sickness and concerns for her unborn child. She now runs a popular brunch spot in Hawaii.
Season 6 runner-up
Fans will recall that Voltaggio and his little brother Michael were both contestants for Season 6, with Michael being the eventual champ. They looked alike, had similar personalities, were obviously close and constantly got on each other’s nerves – it made for great TV. Bryan has gone on to a successful career running restaurants, during which time he also earned himself a couple of James Beard nominations.
4th place in Season 6, 17th place in Season 8, Lost in Last Chance Kitchen in season 15
Don’t call it a comeback, Jennifer Carroll is here for her fourth year. Few contestants have rolled up on Top Chef with as big a chip on their shoulder, but Carroll backed up her attitude by winning four Quick Fire challenges and making it as far as the finals. She since opened her own place in Philadelphia, Spice Finch, and she swears she’s mellowed out.
Season 13 seventh-place finisher
Akunowicz lost with a dish of soba noodles in mushroom dashi broth with wagyu beef & pickled mushrooms inspired by the Empire of the Sun. But just a couple of years later, she published her first cookbook and managed to win the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Northeast in 2018. In 2019, she opened her own Italian enoteca, Fox & the Knife, in Boston.
Season 12 fourth-place finisher
King went down serving smoked eggplant ravioli with shrimp, chorizo and cotija, but has bounced back to be hailed one of San Francisco’s best chefs. She headed up Michelin-starred kitchens, was named the first chef ambassador for Whole Foods Market, helped launch a line of ice cream flavors, worked on TV, and collaborated with IBM, Elle magazine, and Levi’s. So, yeah, she’s been busy.
Watch Top Chef: All-Stars L.A. starting Thursday, March 19, at 10pm ET