Plus: the Cheftestants reveal whether they've mastered their elimination dishes.

on Jan 28 - The Dish

Over eleven seasons of our award-winning show Top Chef, we've met dozens of culinary geniuses—and it isn't just the winners who've gone on to have incredible careers. As the finale of Season 11 gets set to ignite tomorrow (tune in at 10/9c), we caught up with runners-up and fan favorites from all seasons to find out their biggest regrets, the lessons they learned, and how their lives have changed since the competition. You may also be surprised to learn which Cheftestants obsessed over the dishes that led to their elimination.

As the clock counts down until the next Top Chef is revealed, be sure to catch up on all the action from our Emmy-award winning series Last Chance Kitchen.

Carla Hall, Season 5 and Season 8: All-Stars

How has life changed for you since Top Chef?
It's been huge. I always tell people "It's because of Top Chef..." Now, I'm on The Chew and fans can see me everyday during the week. I stopped catering. It's been a whirlwind!

What was the toughest thing about doing both Top Chef and All-Stars?
Being away from your support system is always really hard. But because I've always worked away from home it wasn't as hard for me. Being judged was the hardest part. There were so many times I wanted to go home when people started talking about my food. Another part that's hard is you meet these people who are your friends, but at the end of the day it's a competition.

What's the biggest lesson you learned?
I found my voice. You're always working for somebody and making other people's food as a caterer, and I never thought of what my voice was until Top Chef. Then I realized I'm southern and I do Southern food. Now I don't apologize for that.

Any ingredients or cuisines you were terrified to cook on Top Chef
Let me count the ways! There's no way I would make it on Top Chef now. Breaking down half a cow? There are so many things. In my season, it was eel. I didn't have to do it thankfully.

Do you remember the dish that led to your elimination?

Of course! You go through it in your head so many times. It was a beef dish. I also did a cheese souflee and the oven was too hot and that was a mess. For All Stars, I did this pork dish and it was overcooked. I had thrown it in the frier and I knew that was a bad move. And my sides, I made a compote that was too sweet--an apple and spicy sweet potato mash and I didn't have enough acid on that dish.

Have you made any of those dishes since?
As a matter of fact, the spicy sweet potato mash is in my cookbook.

Would you do Top Chef again?
It's too much! But the crazy thing is I loved doing All Stars.Oh my god! All the people I was rooting for I got to know through that season and I got to know them as real people. I loved that bit. But at the end of the day, after all the challenges, you knew you were staying with them. It's fun to do it with your friends.

Mike Isabella, Season 6 and Season 8: All-Stars

How has life changed since being on Top Chef
It's changed a lot. When I was on All Stars, I had just signed a lease to open up my first restaurant, Graffiato in DC. I was still nervous trying to raise money while I was on the show. But once I finished, that restaurant opened up. And there was a line out the door for three months! It was a huge success. And now I own another restaurant Kapnos, a Greek place. We're also doing G Sandwich at the Nationals baseball stadium. And I'm opening up three projects in 2014.

What was the toughest challenge about being on the show?
Getting eliminated on my first season. I didn't let that go for a long time. You're stressed about it and you watch it and then you break down. You still have the support from your fans and friends, but that was the hardest.

Do you remember the dishes that led to your elimination?
Yeah. We went to Tom Colicchio's Craft steakhouse. And I was planning a dish, but then they said you couldn't use any meat. We had to make a vegetarian dish. So I made one with three ingredients: leeks, carrots and potatoes. I messed it up. Everything was wrong.

Have you cooked with those ingredients since?
I went back to work after that happened and I started working with leeks and carrots everyday. I was so pissed at myself. But when I went back to All-Stars, my challenge was to cook with leeks, carrots and potatoes. I was trained on it!

Any strategies while filming to intimidate your competitors?
On both seasons, I would always try to talk some smack. I had a big resume coming in. I had worked for four different James Beard chefs. And I tried to get at them. When I did All-Stars, I became friends with everyone and focused on myself. But it was easy to get into their heads [laughs].

Dale Levitski, Season 3 and Season 8: All-Stars

How has life changed for you since Top Chef?
It's definitely opened up a lot of doors, not necessarily with getting jobs but in validating a lot of stuff and getting attention and getting people into the restaurant. It has helped. I was fearful that it would box me into a TV chef douche bag. We didn't know the phenomenon it would become.

Have you caught any of this season?
I have not. It's stressful to watch! It's not entertaining for me. I want to be in the challenge—it's such a blast. If I could make a career out of Top Chef challenges, it would be so much fun.

What's the biggest thing you've learned?
Humility. Being told in no uncertain terms that what you made sucked on national TV will teach you a lesson or two.

Do you remember the dishes that led to your elimination?
On All-Stars, I did a veal thing with some french toast and a puree. It was a total disaster.

Have you made the dish since?
I now serve it at my restaurant, actually. And it's awesome.

Did you have a strategy to psych out your opponents?
I tried not to let being sequestered get to me. Some people got ridiculously paranoid and Big Brother-ish. For me, I just went with it and was relaxed and made it a life experience.

Any ingredient or cuisine you were afraid to have to cook?
I don't have cake recipes memorized. Cook traditional Asian? Just send me home now!

What's next for you?
I do private parties and consulting (I hate that word). I'm also doing some product development for a major food company. That kind of stuff. And I'm gearing up to get back into restaurants with a different type of restaurant group that's totally private.

Would you do Top Chef again?
Oh yeah! I would definitely do All-Stars again. I think I was in a weird place at the time. My restaurant then was six months old, my mom had died...there were so many life things going on. I wasn't in the right place. But when you put 15 All-Stars on...behind the scenes it's 10 times more difficult.

Chris Crary, Season 9

How has life changed since Top Chef
A lot! Before, I was working 60-80 hours a week in a kitchen slaving away and no one knew who I was. Now, I'm a chef for hire at Kitchit. I've been lucky enough to take a few months off from kitchen life to travel and go to Europe and do all that. I got sponsored by a beer company out of Thailand. I stayed in a five-star resort and hung out and drank beer and ate good food. It was amazing.

What was the toughest experience about being on the show?
Not having control and not being able to do what I wanted to do. Not being able to call anybody or go online. Chef are control freaks and that's why they're chefs. And when you take 16 crazy control freaks and you put them in a tent by themselves for five hours a day, they're going to go crazy!

Any ingredients or cuisines you were afraid you'd have to cook?
A cake. We got that challenge and had to make two quinceanera cakes. Desserts are always difficult for chefs. Baking is such a science. Preparing savory foods, you're like, 'I'll add a bit of this or that.'

What's the biggest lesson you learned from being on the show?
Just having that thing where you let go of being in charge. Not having that, you learn a bit about yourself and patience.

Do you remember the dish that landed you in Last Chance Kitchen?
It was the salty ribs at the Salt Lick. I made the rub for all of our meats and apparently during the 13 hours of being cooked on the grill, they got a little too salty.

Have you cooked ribs since?
Yes! I'm making them for my girlfriend's birthday, for 50 people. I've perfected how to cook them.

What's next for you?
I'm working on doing my own crazy restaurant in Los Angeles. It's a distillery diner that distills it's own vodka and whiskey. But there are so many rules from prohibition I'm dealing with. I'm still thinking about the name. I may call the alcohol part Alibi and the diner Chris' Diner. Something simple and old school.

Would you do Top Chef again?
In a heart beat.

Brooke Williamson, Season 10

How has life changed since being on Top Chef?
It's been busy. I'm opening a third restaurant next month. I had two restaurants before the show and then after they got busy as all hell! We did business I never thought we'd be capable of. I used to also get recognized on the street a lot for a good six months after the show was over. Now, I feel like people recognize me sometimes and I can hear them talking behind my back more [laughs]. The hype has died down a little but the activity hasn't.

Are you thankful for the experience?
Oh, absolutely! I didn't feel that was my career path with the TV thing. I wasn't confident I would be able to perform in front of cameras. I was afraid of embarrassing myself on national TV. I can definitely say I embarrassed myself a few times, but I'm still thankful I did it. It's so unexpected how it changes your life.

Did you have any strategies to intimidate your opponents?
I feel like people expected it but that's not how I work. I remember in the finale with Kristen [Kish], we were en route to the finale and she had a headache. I offered her Advil and she thought I was trying to drug her! [Laughs]

Do you remember the dish that led to your elimination?
Chicken wings and I thought they were tasty and really good. I don't feel like I did anything wrong. But the last dish I put out, which was ultimately the one I lost with, was the snapper dish.

Have you cooked either since?
I have chicken wings on my menu and people love them! We sell a ton of them.

Any cuisines or ingredients you were afraid you'd have to cook?
I was afraid of a few things but none of them had to do with food. I'm afraid of heights and boats and I had to go to the top of the Space Needle and get on a cruise!

What's next for you?
My new spot! My husband and I are opening a restaurant concept. It opens at the end of March or beginning of April. It's like a beach community restaurant in Playa del Rey in Los Angeles. It's called Playa Provisions. There's three different rooms: a breakfast-lunch place with a creamery, a whiskey bar, and an east coast-style dining room. I also have Hudson House and the Tripel in Playa del Rey.

What's the biggest lesson you've learned?
That I'm actually great under pressure. I can work quickly and think quickly when I need to. I always thought I was the person that needs to work out the menu, but now I don't. I was just at Sundance and I was doing beef cheeks for a 300 person dinner. They were frozen and a block of ice. You learn to deal with situations that would make most people throw up their hands.

Catch up on all the action from our Emmy-award winning series Last Chance Kitchen and see who's facing off on the final episode below.

 

 

Click to catch up with Tiffany Derry, Fabio Viviani, Casey Thompson, Stefan Richter, Tiffani Faison, Ed Cotton and Sarah Grueneberg.