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Everything to Know About Top Chef’s Season 17 All Stars

Everything to Know About Top Chef’s Season 17 All Stars

Find out what the cheftestants have been up to since their first time on the show and how they plan to take home the title this time around.

By Laura Rosenfeld

The Top Chef Season 17 All Stars come from diverse personal and culinary backgrounds, but they all have one thing in common: the coveted title of Top Chef has always eluded them.

Now these 15 finalists, frontrunners, and fan favorites are back for another chance to be crowned Top Chef and take home the largest cash prize in the history of the series, $250,000, when Season 17 premieres with a supersized episode on Thursday, March 19 at 10/9c.

Even though they haven’t been able to call themselves “champion” just yet, the Season 17 cheftestants have achieved incredible success since their first time in the culinary competition, including winning James Beard Foundation Awards, opening new restaurants, and hitting major milestones like getting married and starting families.

BravoTV.com caught up with the Season 17 All Stars as they got ready for another shot at that Top Chef title to find out what they’ve been up to since we last saw them in the competition, their biggest lessons and regrets from the show, and their plan of attack to reign supreme this season.

Eric Adjepong (Season 16)

"My life has changed tremendously."

He may have come in third place in Season 16, but Eric Adjepong’s real prize was waiting for him when he returned home from Kentucky. He and his wife, Janell Adjepong, welcomed their first child, daughter Lennox, in September 2018.

"My life has changed tremendously,” Eric told BravoTV.com prior to Season 17. "Now my daughter is 1 year old, just turned 1, and doesn't fully understand why I'm not around. I think it's really cool to think about when she does have an understanding of what's going on that I was on this show and did Top Chef and made an all-star season, and it's ultimately going to benefit her. So this is all for you."

The Washington, D.C.-based Adjepongs currently balance their new lives as parents with running their company Pinch & Plate, where they create customized, full-service dinner parties for clients at their homes and other venues. Eric also teaches group and private cooking classes, gives nutritional assessments, does dietary meal planning, and menu consulting. He collaborated with Territory Foods to create a roasted chicken jollof rice meal showcasing the West African flavors that wowed the judges on Top Chef.

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Eric will soon be able to add the title of restaurateur to his resume as well. He announced in March 2020 that he will be opening a fast casual counter selling roti flatbreads and doubles in Northeast D.C.'s Union Market food hall. The food stall, called On the Double, is Eric's first solo project since Top Chef, and it is slated to open in April or May 2020.

Since first competing on Top Chef, Eric told BravoTV.com that he has realized “there is so much more to learn!” “That's the awesome part about this industry, there is always more to learn,” he said.

Once Eric got the taste for competition in Season 16, he said he just had to come back for seconds in the upcoming All Stars season. “There aren't many opportunities in life to win a quarter million dollars based off merit,” he told BravoTV.com. “Plus, I love to compete.”

Karen Akunowicz (Season 13)

"I just want to cook my ass off."

After placing seventh in Season 13, Karen Akunowicz picked up another major title, winning the 2018 James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Northeast while leading the kitchen as executive chef of Myers + Chang in Boston.

Karen left her post at Myers + Chang in 2018 before opening up her first solo restaurant, Fox & the Knife, in Boston in 2019. Fox & the Knife is already racking up accolades, earning a spot as a semifinalist in the Best New Restaurant category for the 2020 James Beard Foundation Awards.

Also in 2019, Karen opened a fast casual poke shop called SloPoke in the Whole Foods Market in Boston’s Charles River Plaza. She owns her restaurants with her spouse, LJ, which has turned out to be a great move for their relationship. "We spend more time now with each other than we ever have before, which is pretty neat," Karen told BravoTV.com before competing in the new season of Top Chef.

“I love competing — and who turns down a chance to be on All Stars?!”

Karen has also brought her culinary expertise to the masses, co-authoring the cookbook Myers + Chang at Home with Chef Joanne Chang in 2017. She is currently working on her second cookbook.

Even though Karen was already a James Beard-nominated chef when she competed on Top Chef the first time, she said the culinary competition had a huge impact on her life — inside and outside of the kitchen. "Top Chef changed who I was as a person and as a chef. It gave me a great deal more confidence,” she said. “I learned a lot about myself, personally and professionally, by coming on the show the first time.”

Karen headed back to California to compete in Season 17 “because there is nothing like” Top Chef, she told BravoTV.com. “It’s completely different from my everyday life, and I love the challenge,” she said. “I love competing — and who turns down a chance to be on All Stars?!” 

And Karen is ready to give it her all as she faces these fierce competitors. "I just want to cook my ass off, I want to be less afraid of losing and really take risks," she said. "I want to represent Boston and share what I do at Fox & the Knife."

Jennifer Carroll (Seasons 6, 8)

"I'm gonna keep on trying and see how far I get every single time."

Fans should immediately notice a change in Jennifer Carroll this season of Top Chef, according to the already-two-time cheftestant. "Last time on Top Chef, I had a very aggressive attitude,” Jennifer admitted during an interview with BravoTV.com in advance of Season 17. "For me coming back this time, I'm definitely more calm. I'm definitely more relaxed. So definitely changed a little bit."

Perhaps it should come as no surprise that the woman who has appeared on Top Chef (fourth place in Season 6 and 17th place in Season 8), Last Chance Kitchen (Season 7), and Top Chef Duels would be just as busy off-screen. Jennifer is the owner of the catering company Carroll Couture Cuisine, as well as the executive chef and partner of Spice Finch, a Mediterranean restaurant in Philadelphia.

Jennifer, who splits her time between Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., runs Spice Finch with her fiancé of three-and-a-half years, Billy Riddle, who is also a chef. "He's at home cheering for me, hoping I do well and we win the money,” Jennifer said.

She also has the support of her “five fur babies” back home: her Holland Lop bunnies Chewy (named after Star Wars’ Chewbacca the Wookiee), Larry, Lil’ Joanie, Pickle, and Turkey aka Hercules. "I'm just starting out my little rabbit family right now,” Jennifer told BravoTV.com.

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Since Top Chef, Jennifer said she has been living a “much healthier lifestyle,” including cutting out alcohol. She told Philadelphia magazine in 2018 that it “was starting to affect her energy levels and how she felt physically.” Jennifer also took her family history into consideration.

“Alcoholism runs in my family — it’s affected people in my life and myself in a negative way,” she said. “For me, it’s hard to say no after a few drinks. I just want it more, and that’s not good.”

Jennifer is hoping that third time’s a charm for her in Season 17 of Top Chef. “How could I say no to becoming a two-time Top Chef All Star?” she told BravoTV.com. “That would be like an NFL player not going back to play in the Pro Bowl!”

And Jennifer is always going to go for the gold. "Being on the show, this is such a mental game, and you kind of second guess yourself,” she said. “But I don't give up, so I just keep coming back to Top Chef, and I'm gonna keep on trying and see how far I get every single time."

Stephanie Cmar (Season 11)

"The thing about getting kicked off for somebody else's food is you leave feeling wonderful about yourself."

One might think that Stephanie Cmar has spent the last several years thinking about what could have been after getting eliminated in Season 11 on a technicality. In Episode 13 of that season, the cheftestants were split into two teams as they battled it out with meals representing French and Spanish cuisines. It was actually Nicholas Elmi’s dish that landed Stephanie’s team, which also included Shirley Chung, in the bottom. Since Nicholas had immunity for that challenge, the judges decided to have Stephanie pack her knives and go.

"I got kicked off for somebody's else's food, so there is very little feedback to me just about how gross his food was,” Stephanie told BravoTV.com in an interview prior to the upcoming Season 17 of Top Chef. "The thing about getting kicked off for somebody else's food is you leave feeling wonderful about yourself. It's probably the most confident I was the entire competition."

However, Stephanie is totally focused on the future, hoping to make it further than the seventh place spot she earned in Season 11. “I have certainly learned that with perseverance, dedication, and passion, anything is possible,” she told BravoTV.com.

Now Stephanie is ready to show what she can really do in Season 17. “I felt as though it was a chance to prove to myself that I could do it,” Stephanie said of why she decided to come back to compete on Top Chef. “It was also my chance to prove to everyone else that I am capable.”

“I have certainly learned that with perseverance, dedication, and passion, anything is possible."

Stephanie opened the pop-up Stacked Donuts in Boston following Season 11. She also served as the executive chef of Fairsted Kitchen for a year before taking a position at the Venetian restaurant SRV in Boston’s South End.

During that time, Stephanie also worked part-time as a private chef, ultimately realizing this was a career path she wanted to pursue full-time. Stephanie now works as a private chef for several families, in addition to catering upscale intimate dinner parties. "I absolutely love what I do, and I wouldn't change it for the world,” she told BravoTV.com.

Even Stephanie’s wedding had a very Top Chef twist. She married David Cavilla in November 2018 with none other than Top Chef Season 10 winner Kristen Kish serving as the officiant.

Lisa Fernandes (Season 4)

"I think this experience, it's intense. It's a lot harder than it looks."

Lisa Fernandes was so close to winning Season 4, she could almost taste it. The Toronto native was a finalist that season, along with Richard Blais and Stephanie Izard, who ultimately took home the title of Top Chef.

"I've grown tremendously as a chef and a person in 13 years. First time, I wanted to win. I was very hungry,” Lisa told BravoTV.com in an interview prior to the Season 17 premiere. "Definitely older and wiser this time around."

Now Lisa is ready for redemption in the new season of Top Chef. "I think this experience, it's intense. It's a lot harder than it looks. You're cooking in a new environment with all these crazy rules and challenges. I still want to win, obviously. I want the title. I want the $250,000. I want to get as far as I can possibly get,” she said. “But I'm also going into this having fun, enjoying myself, putting forward dishes that really represent me, that I'm proud of cooking and being true to myself."

Since competing on Top Chef the first time around, Lisa launched the Sweet Chili food truck featuring her take on southeastern Asian cuisine. Lisa then opened Sweet Chili as a brick-and-mortar restaurant in Bushwick, Brooklyn in 2019. “It's my style food, my cooking, my kitchen, I'm gonna be in there all day, every day,” Lisa said of opening her very first restaurant. “I'm super, super excited."

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Lisa is very close to her adorable nephew Nathan, who will turn 2 in May. Lisa is always sharing photos of him on her Instagram — and we totally don’t blame her! He's even already helping her out in the kitchen.

Lisa is ready to show everything she has learned in the more than a decade since she last competed on Top Chef, such as how to cook quickly and abundantly in small spaces. “I felt like it was time to show my new skills and how I have grown as a chef,” she told BravoTV.com. “I just want to cook and have fun with other great chefs.”

Kevin Gillespie (Season 6)

"After going through illness, you can feel very defeated and not in control. I wanted to give people who feel that way some hope."

Returning to Top Chef meant way more to Kevin Gillespie than just another shot at the coveted title.

"Honestly, it wasn’t the prize money or the notoriety," he told BravoTV.com in an interview while getting ready to compete in Season 17. "After going through illness, you can feel very defeated and not in control. I wanted to give people who feel that way some hope."

Following a surgery on his back in 2017, a follow-up MRI showed Kevin’s kidney looked “abnormal.” He was diagnosed with a rare form of renal cancer in May 2018 at just 35 years old and soon underwent surgery to remove one of his kidneys.

Kevin celebrated one year of being cancer free last May. Now that he’s healthy, Kevin wants to make everyone who believed in him proud during his second shot at the Top Chef title this season.

"I think it's what has brought me back here because what it took me getting sick to realize was there are a lot of folks who found inspiration from what I did, who followed what I did and appreciated that I tried to be very true to my blue collar upbringing, to just showcase the fact that it doesn't always have to be the fanciest food to be really great,” Kevin said in an interview with BravoTV.com. “So I wanted an opportunity to come back and tell those people that I'm really thankful, that I appreciate all they've done for me, and hopefully to try to bring home a victory for the city of Atlanta."

"To have a chance to compete against Bryan Voltaggio and Jennifer Carroll again is special for me."

Kevin was only 25 years old when he first competed in Season 6 of Top Chef, and he said that his cooking has gotten “a lot more experimental” since then. “The food cultures of a lot of different people from around the world have influenced the food that I'm making,” Kevin said of being influenced by Atlanta’s melting pot. “It's a lot more open-minded than it was 10, 12 years ago."

He is now the chef and owner of a restaurant group called Red Beard Restaurants, which includes Atlanta's Gunshow, Revival, Ole Reliable, Cold Beer, and GameChanger, as well as a catering company and a restaurant design company. Kevin is also the author of two cookbooks: Fire in My Belly and Pure Pork Awesomeness

Kevin has also gotten married since Season 6, tying the knot with wife Valerie Combs in 2011.

Kevin, who was a runner-up in Season 6, will be facing off against a couple of his previous competitors. "To have a chance to compete against Bryan Voltaggio and Jennifer Carroll again is special for me. They're friends of mine at this point, so I think it's important for me to be successful,” he told BravoTV.com. “But I also am relishing every moment I get when they are successful."

Gregory Gourdet (Season 12)

"Hopefully, I can come out on top this time around."

Gregory Gourdet came this close to taking home the title of Top Chef in Season 12. But the chef knows where he went wrong during that season’s finale in Mexico. 

"I made it to the finale in Mexico, but I definitely had some missteps. I was so inspired by Mexico that I chose to create this Mexican menu. And to be honest, that kind of cost me a little bit because I wasn't fully trained working with those ingredients and making those dishes,” he told BravoTV.com in an interview prior to starting Season 17. “So this time around, I'm listening, I'm making strategic moves so I don't find myself in a situation where I make these grave mistakes because at this level, stakes are really, really high."

It’s not like Gregory hasn’t done all right for himself outside of Top Chef, though. The Portland, Oregon-based chef is a three-time James Beard Foundation Awards semifinalist, and the fourth time could be the charm. Gregory is yet again a semifinalist in the 2020 James Beard Foundation Awards for the Best Chef: Northwest & Pacific category for his work at the Portland, Oregon restaurant Departure.

Gregory stepped down as executive chef of Departure after nine years in late 2019 to open his own restaurant focusing on wood-fired cooking, global influences, and traditional Haitian cuisine, Portland Monthly reported in November. The new restaurant is tentatively slated to open in late 2020. However, Gregory continues to serve as Departure’s director of culinary operations.

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If you’ve ever wished you could cook like Gregory (and who hasn’t?), he is also working on his first cookbook, Everyone’s Table: Global Recipes for Modern Health, which is slated for release in spring 2021.

One of the things Gregory is most proud of during his first time competing on Top Chef is that he was able to share his sobriety journey with viewers. "A lot of people have reached out saying, ‘Thank you for being so vocal and open about addiction on such a big platform,’” Gregory shared during an interview with BravoTV.com. “So I still get tons of love everywhere I go. I feel extremely grateful to be able to inspire people."

Gregory has his eye on the prize more than ever as he gets ready for Season 17. "This time around, I have a much more solid game plan that's built for longevity. I really tried to study Top Chef. I've watched every single episode. I've taken notes. I'm really trying to do this the right way,” he said. “And hopefully, I can come out on top this time around."

Melissa King (Season 12)

"I think people know me as the sweet one, but this year I'm not gonna play that nice."

Melissa King made it to the finale in Mexico in Season 12, along with fellow All Star Gregory Gourdet. Though Melissa would come in fourth place that season, she has nothing to be ashamed about when it comes to her performance in the finals. "You did nothing wrong,” head judge Tom Colicchio told Melissa after she was eliminated. “You just came up against three dishes that were stronger." 

While looking back on her elimination during an interview with BravoTV.com ahead of the Season 17 premiere, Melissa said that she was “really proud of that dish” that ultimately sent her home.

Melissa’s life since Season 12 has taken her all over the world, working in many different industries. She currently owns a company focused on culinary partnerships and experiences and is the first chef ambassador for Whole Foods Market. Melissa has partnered with Humphry Slocombe to create flavors for the ice cream brand, and has also founded her own experimental pop-up dinner series called Co+Lab.

“I figured why not challenge myself again and discover the person waiting on the other side.”

Basically, you can find Melissa anywhere these days, whether it’s hosting a holiday food special on TV, modeling for a Levi’s global Pride campaign advocating for the LGBTQ+ community, consulting for restaurants around the world, speaking at events, or appearing at food and music festivals. "Every day is different,” Melissa said of her career.

Melissa is ready to put her skills to the test again in Season 17. “I love challenging myself. The first time I competed, I felt all the things — excitement, fear, anxiety, inspiration, more fear — but I dove into it and became a stronger individual from the experience,” she told BravoTV.com. “I figured why not challenge myself again and discover the person waiting on the other side.”

This time around, Melissa said that her “technique is a lot stronger,” and she’s competing “100 percent for me.” "I think people know me as the sweet one, but this year I'm not gonna play that nice,” she told Bravotv.com. “I'm gonna play smart."

She’s thrilled with all of the support she has received, especially from women, the Asian American community, and the LGBTQ+ community, since first appearing on Top Chef. "I really hope that I make you guys proud,” Melissa said.

Jamie Lynch (Season 14)

"I felt that I left something unfinished on the table."

The worst part about Jamie Lynch’s elimination in Season 14 was that it didn’t have to happen at all. 

Jamie’s dish landed his team in the bottom of the elimination challenge in Episode 7 that tasked the chefs with cooking for a pirate-themed party in honor of Blackbeard. Lucky for Jamie, he had immunity for that challenge. However, he opted to give up his immunity and be judged just like everyone else on his team, ultimately resulting in him being sent home in ninth place.

"I'm definitely known as the guy who gave up immunity,” Jamie told BravoTV.com in an interview prior to competing in Season 17. “I'm the chef that cooks with integrity. So if you're not gonna win, it's not a bad moniker to have, I guess."

Of course, getting eliminated in that way has been huge motivation to return to Top Chef for Jamie. “I felt that I left something unfinished on the table and wanted the opportunity to prove to myself that I deserved the title,” he said.

Jamie has focused on expanding his culinary empire since his first appearance on Top Chef, which already included the restaurant 5Church in Charlotte and Charleston, South Carolina, as well as Sophia’s Lounge in Charleston. Jamie is working on opening two new restaurants this year: Tempest in Charleston and Church and Union in Nashville.

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In 2018, Jamie opened an organic farm with his girlfriend of three years, Corey, called Chef Jamie’s Farm. The fruit and vegetable farm sits on six acres in Belmont, North Carolina and is dedicated to Jamie’s mission of sustainability and supplying local ingredients to his restaurants. There are also 38 chickens on the farm, who are all named after queens (primarily famous drag queens).

The couple’s Blue Heeler (also known as an Australian Cattle Dog) pup Harlem, who is named after the couple’s first date, “keeps the farm in order and takes care of things,” Jamie, who is also dad to a teenage son, said. "So that's super cool. We grow a lot of our own product, and it's kind of changed my approach to ingredients."

Jamie said he’s looking forward to showcasing his new culinary point-of-view this season of Top Chef. "The experience of competing on Top Chef for me personally has been a great source of inspiration. I've made some amazing friends, pushed myself to cook in a way that I normally wouldn't, and that's super inspirational. Really being pitted up against some of the best cooking in the game right now, that's exciting for me,” he shared. “But I'm kind of in this evolutionary phase of my cooking, and that's a vulnerable place to be cooking from, so we'll see how it goes. I'm hoping that this competition will really help me dial in how I'm cooking these days."

Brian Malarkey (Season 3)

"Being on Top Chef, it's changed my whole world."

Brian Malarkey placed fourth in Season 3 of Top Chef in Miami, getting the boot “for doing too much stuff on my dish,” the chef and restaurateur described in an interview with BravoTV.com prior to Season 17.

Well, Brian hasn’t really stopped trying to do it all since his time on Top Chef, opening up several restaurants in California with his business partner Christopher Puffer, including Herb & Wood, Herb & Eatery, Green Acre, Farmer & The Seahorse, Herb & Sea, Animae, NIMA Cade, and Herb & Ranch. The newest addition to the Puffer Malarkey Collective, Wood Yu, just opened in San Diego in February 2020.

Prior to that, Brian sold his restaurants Searsucker and Herringbone, which had expanded to 10 locations across the country and internationally, to the Hakkasan Group.

"That's why I came back to do it again, to show a whole new generation of young chefs and young cooks I got the skills to play the game."

Still, Brian has made a lot of time for his family, who lives in San Diego. Brian and his wife of 17 years, Chantelle, have three beautiful children: Huntington, 11, and his 9-year-old twin son and daughter Miles and Sailor, respectively. "They've watched me in the old season,” Brian told BravoTV.com. "They laughed, like, 'Oh my gosh, Dad.'"

Brian said that being a part of Top Chef has helped lead him to so much personal and professional success in life. "Being on Top Chef, it's changed my whole world. I was like, why can't I be as good as the best chefs? Why can't I be as good a businessman as the best businessman? And so that really opened my horizons,” Brian explained. “The exposure of Top Chef, not just for me as a person but me as a professional, is absolutely huge. That's why I came back to do it again, to show a whole new generation of young chefs and young cooks I got the skills to play the game, but also just kind of a thank you and a reflective moment. So one more time to be frozen in time, and that is Top Chef Season 17."

Nini Nguyen (Season 16)

"I feel like I still have so much more to show."

Every cheftestant both looks forward to and fears making it to Restaurant Wars on Top Chef. Unfortunately for Nini Nguyen, Restaurant Wars proved to be the low point of her Top Chef experience, sending her home after her front-of-house skills proved to not be up to snuff in Season 16.

“Last season was so short for me, and I feel like I still have so much more to show,” Nini said during an interview with BravoTV.com in advance of Season 17. “I promised my late brother that I would compete on Top Chef for him, but this time, it is for me.”

When we first met Nini in Season 16, she was working at Cook Space, a recreational culinary school in Brooklyn, New York, where she developed the culinary program. "Since being on last season of Top Chef, I am actually taking some time off, doing a lot of pop-ups with a lot of chefs around the country,” she said. 

Nini has also kept busy collaborating with chefs and hosting private events. “Don't know if I necessarily want a restaurant yet,” Nini noted. “I'm just trying to figure out what I want to do and what I want to be when I grow up."

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Nini also had a major update in her personal life: She’s moved in with her boyfriend, Daniel Bevan, in New York since last season of Top Chef, and they have a dog named Tofu. “He is like my baby,” Nini said.

But Nini and Daniel haven’t spent much time at home, traveling the world to places like Vietnam, Japan, and Germany. "It's definitely influenced my food, and so I'm excited to show you guys what I have,” Nini shared.

Though her first time in the competition was only last season, Nini still can’t believe she’s getting another chance to compete against Eric Adjepong and all of the “amazing, talented chefs” in Season 17. “I feel extremely honored to be invited back to compete,” Nini said. “Honestly, I never thought I would have this opportunity again, and so I feel like I've already won something. But winning the title and money would definitely be dope.”

Joe Sasto (Season 15)

"I was so close to winning the last time."

It was only two seasons ago that Joe Sasto first competed on Top Chef, but we could never forget that iconic mustache. "I definitely think people remember me from the first time around because of this mustache,” Joe said during an interview with BravoTV.com prior to the new season. “If anything, that's what they remember."

While Joe will still have that same ‘stache in Season 17, he said that he’s gone through a “huge change” since his first time on the show. “I haven't been in a restaurant for about a year now. I've been traveling full-time doing pop-up dinners, private events, just cooking,” he said. “I want to bring my food to the people and to everyone that's always supported me. And I'm so thankful for the opportunity to be able to do that full-time."

The Los Angeles-based Joe has plans to move back to Northern California and open up his dream restaurant. In addition to having a girlfriend, Bella Bennett, Joe is also dad to two cats, Uni and Gnocchi.

"After seeing what Joe and Adrienne cooked for the finale, I knew if I had made it, I could've won the whole thing."

Joe told BravoTV.com that competing on Top Chef has helped him find his “culinary voice.” “I have become much more confident in my food, my style of cooking, and my creative direction. I am no longer cooking food that I have seen my former chef do in a previous restaurant or try to re-interpret a dish that I have done working for someone else,” he explained. “I feel now I have the freedom to cook my own food, but most important, I am able to show restraint at the same time, to edit myself, and have confidence in minimal techniques.”

He also said that he couldn’t “imagine taking my first executive chef position [at the now-closed Cal Mare in Los Angeles] without having gone through this kind of training” that he experienced in Season 15. “One of the things that I never expected or anticipated was the amount of growing and learning that came from being on the show. It was like a culinary chef bootcamp,” Joe said. “You had to make choices on what truly and wholeheartedly represented you.”

After coming in third place in Season 15, Joe said that he feels like he has “unfinished business” in the new season of Top Chef. “I was so close to winning the last time. I got in my own head right at the finals and slipped up, and I knew it before the judges’ table. After seeing what Joe [Flamm] and Adrienne [Cheatham] cooked for the finale, I knew if I had made it, I could've won the whole thing,” Joe shared. “I want to prove to myself I can do it.”

Angelo Sosa (Seasons 7, 8)

"I'm ready to cook passionately and just put my heart on the plate."

Like Jennifer Carroll, Angelo Sosa also knows what it’s like to compete in an all-star season of Top Chef. He followed his runner-up run in Season 7 with a seventh place finish in the first All Stars season in New York City in Season 8.

Angelo moved from New York City to San Diego about a year and a half ago. But he left his mark on the Big Apple, opening two locations of his Añejo restaurant in the city since competing on Top Chef, as well as the Mexican cantina Abajo and Death by Tequila in California. He is currently the culinary director of Small Barn Temecula and is working on a new venture called Wolfie’s Carousel in downtown San Diego.

Angelo has penned two cookbooks: Flavor Exposed: 100 Global Recipes from Sweet to Salty, Earth to Spicy and Healthy Latin Eating: Our Favorite Family Recipes Remixed.

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During an interview with BravoTV.com prior to Season 17, Angelo admitted that he has mellowed since we last saw him on Top Chef. "Obviously, there's been so much transformation for me, so much personal growth,” he shared. "Last time I was on Top Chef, I honestly don't recognize that person. I've been doing a lot of this self-work, a lot of this self-development, and now I'm just a patient person and calm."

Part of that is due to his girlfriend, who he has been seeing for about a year. "She's just pure joy and brings a lot of peace and harmony into my life and totally understands me as a person and as a chef,” Angelo, who also recently celebrated four years of sobriety, said.

Angelo’s son Jacob, 11, also gave him the strength to take on another season of Top Chef. "Jacob is my light. He's gone through some struggles in his life. He had heart bypass surgery, and it ended up him having a chromosomal deficiency,” Angelo said. “He's just been through so much fight, so he's my motivation, my inspiration. I'm ready to cook passionately and just put my heart on the plate."

Bryan Voltaggio (Season 6)

"Obviously, I'm constantly reminded of the fact that my little brother beat me on Top Chef."

What could be worse than coming in second place on Top Chef? Losing the title to your younger brother.

Unfortunately for Bryan Voltaggio, that’s exactly what he experienced when he competed in Season 6, taking the runner-up position to his little bro, Michael Voltaggio. "When I first applied to be on Top Chef in Season 6, both my brother and I were just kind of starting off in our careers, went in there with the intent to beat each other, then we might get towards the end. At the end of the day, it came down to the two of us,” Bryan said in an interview with BravoTV.com ahead of the new season. "Obviously, I'm constantly reminded of the fact that my little brother beat me on Top Chef. It might be part of the reason I'm back because I'd love to even the score."

To make matters worse, Bryan came in second again when he competed in Season 5 of Top Chef Masters, coming in as runner-up to Douglas Keane. "When you're getting to the finale, it really comes down to really minute details between the menus and the dishes,” Bryan said.

Of course, Michael will be rooting his brother on this time around, as will Bryan’s wife of 15 years, Jennifer, and their three children, Thacher, Piper, and Ever, back home in Frederick, Maryland. "My entire family is at home watching: my wife, my three children, who I miss very much, and my brother, too,” Bryan said. “He wants to see how his older brother is doing.”

“At this level that we're playing at right now, it's going to come down to the last grain of salt."

Since his first time on Top Chef, Bryan has expanded his restaurant empire beyond VOLT to include Family Meal, as well as a few hot spots with his brother, including Estuary, Voltaggio Brothers Steak House, and STRFSH. The brothers have also partnered on a cookbook called VOLT.Ink, and Bryan penned a tome of his own, Home: Recipes to Cook with Family and Friends.

As you can see, Bryan’s life hasn’t been the same since he competed on Top Chef. "Being on Top Chef, it's changed my life a lot. It's given me a lot of opportunity to connect myself with a lot of new guests, expand opportunities to not only work closer to my community and be able to give back, but also, it's changed me as a chef, for sure,” he told BravoTV.com. "I've expanded my repertoire. I have a lot more dishes behind me. I think now there's more tools in the bag, so I'm gonna be able to bring a lot more to this season, for sure."

So, could Season 17 be Bryan’s time to finally end up on top? “Everyone here is extremely talented,” he said. “At this level that we're playing at right now, it's going to come down to the last grain of salt."

Lee Anne Wong (Seasons 1, 15)

"The sort of fandom around Top Chef is awesome because it's what drives the show."

Lee Anne Wong hasn’t seemed to have much luck on Top Chef. In her first time on the show in Season 1, she was eliminated just before the finale, coming in fourth place. Lee Anne then got the chance to come back to the competition after winning Last Chance Kitchen in Season 15. Unfortunately, Lee Anne, who was four months pregnant at the time, came down with altitude sickness during a camping challenge in Episode 5 and had to walk away from the competition.

Now Lee Anne is back and hoping that she’s better than ever in Season 17, although she knows it’s definitely going to be a challenge, having taken some time off from the kitchen after the birth of her son, Rye, in November 2017. "Top Chef is a game changer. It's definitely put me on a path. Nobody knew who I was before we went on the show,” Lee Anne told BravoTV.com in an interview prior to Season 17. “I haven't been in my kitchen for like a year and a half, so I've taken this time off to be with my son. I'm just getting in the swing of things, but I'm still here."

But it’s not like Lee Anne hasn’t been crushing it in the culinary world since her first appearance on Top Chef. After 20 years in New York City, Lee Anne moved to Honolulu, Hawaii in 2013 where she later opened Koko Head Café, an island-style brunch house, in 2014. Also that year, Lee Anne released her first cookbook, Dumplings All Day Wong

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Lee Anne has really become a major player in the Hawaiian culinary scene. She was named executive chef for Hawaiian Airlines in 2017. Lee Anne also moved to Maui with her son and husband in 2019 in order to reimagine the restaurant concept for the island’s historic Pioneer Inn hotel.

The move has been a great decision for the whole family, according to Lee Anne, who told BravoTV.com that she wanted her son to “have space” as he grew up, just like she did in her hometown of Troy, New York. “I grew up in upstate New York with like a yard, a creek, just space to run, and I want that for my son,” she said.

Lee Anne isn’t slowing down one bit. She is currently working on a second location for Koko Head Café in Tokyo that’s scheduled to open in late fall of 2020.

She has played an important role in Top Chef over the years as well. Lee Anne served as the series’ supervising culinary producer for Seasons 2 through 7. 

Lee Anne said that having the chance to compete in Season 17 wouldn’t be possible without all of the support she and the show have received from fans. "It's really sweet, and I think the sort of fandom around Top Chef is awesome because it's what drives the show,” she told BravoTV.com. “It's why we're still putting on this incredible season is because of all the fans and all the viewers, so thank you, guys."

Want more of Top Chef? Season 17 premieres March 19 at 10/9c or catch up through the Bravo app.