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Eateries show off tastes of ‘Top Chef’ vets

Former contestants opening restaurants from coast to coast

Fans of the hit Bravo show “Top Chef,” now in its fifth season, have seen their favorite cooks whip up extravagant dishes under the toughest made-for-reality TV scenarios – time crunches, ingredient restrictions, infighting.

Now fans can be their own judge by stepping inside one of the restaurants across the country run by former contestants.

“When you have a passion for something, you are competitive,” says Spike Mendelsohn, a Season 4 “cheftestant” who opened Good Stuff Eatery in Washington, D.C., in July to lines into the street.

The real star on the menu is Spike’s Five Napkin Burger. The patty recipe alone – a special blend of short ribs, brisket and a secret dose of fat – took Mendelsohn a year to perfect. Add applewood smoked bacon, an egg and American cheese on a brioche bun smothered in Good Stuff sauce – a mix of mayonnaise, molasses, rice wine vinegar and a secret ingredient.

But Richard Blais, who battled Mendelsohn in Season 4, isn’t giving his showmate the last word on burgers. Blais is the creative director for Flip, an Atlanta-based restaurant scheduled to open late this year, that will offer modern hamburgers and a liquid nitrogen milkshake bar.

“I use liquid nitrogen in cooking like other chefs use frying oil,” says Blais, who used the trick on “Top Chef” to score extra pizzazz points from the judges.

Look for other surprises, such as sliceable ketchup and unique burger options, including the paté melt, using French paté on brioche bread, topped with smoked mayonnaise, basil, mint and cilantro.

Season 3 competitor Camille Becerra still runs Paloma, the busy Brooklyn-based eatery she launched before falling short of the “Top Chef” title. Her current fall favorite is a falafel made with a red lentils-and-curry-leaf mixture and served along seared scallops.

In West Palm Beach, Fla., Stephen Asprinio from Season 1 opened Forte di Asprinio in March. He proudly pushes his signature dish, also prepared on the show: a butter-poached Maine lobster served with a caramelized cauliflower and finished with an airy saffron vanilla sauce.

“People remember this dish from the show,” Asprinio says. “They get excited when they see it on the menu because they want to try it themselves.”

Back on the West Coast, Los Angeles chef Antonia Lofaso, also from Season 4, has created a new bar menu for the celebrity hot spot Foxtail Lounge in West Hollywood that focuses on smaller bites and sweet treats, such as crispy apple doughnuts served with a choice of dipping sauces.

Of those who walked away with the actual “Top Chef” title (and $100,000 prize), only Season 1 champ Harold Dieterle has a restaurant, Perilla, up and running. It’s in his New York City.

The remaining “Top Chef” champs have plans in the works. Season 2 winner Ilan Hall will launch a new place in Los Angeles, Season 3 champ Hung Huynh has a spot in New York City coming soon, and Season 4 Top Chef Stephanie Izard is looking at Chicago.

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