Stalking Top Chef

Seattle's Top Chef Contestants: Then and Now

A look back at the drama queens and nude modeling kings that represented our fair city.

By Duke Sullivan July 31, 2012


 We’re still waiting to hear more details about the cast for Top Chef Seattle (which is still filming its way around the city, by the way). But while we await the Novemberish premier, let’s take a look back at previous contestants with Seattle ties. In nine seasons there have been 10 contenders with connections to the area, and with a collection of drama inciters, a science geek, and even a mustachioed nude model, Seattle has had quite an interesting run.

Marcel Vigneron: Season 2
The season’s runner-up was the first and so far most successful contestant from the area (not to mention possessor of some of the show’s most talked-about hair). Originally from Bainbridge Island, Vigneron is all about molecular gastronomy-leaning dishes. Before Top Chef, he was working as the master cook for Joel Robuchon in Las Vegas, but after a few stops as the executive sous chef at Jose Andres’s Bazaar in Beverly Hills and Los Angeles's Bar 210, he landed a show on the Syfy network called, Marcel’s Quantum Kitchen. Oh, and he revised his talented-but-prickly persona on Top Chef: All Stars.

Lia Bardeen: Season 3
The eclectic self-taught chef made her way to New York City from Tacoma. Bardeen was the fifth contestant sent home  from Miami after the judges deemed her smoked rainbow trout with poblano-charred corn polenta cake and pico de gallo damningly bland. The last we heard of Bardeen was back in 2008, when she opened J&G Steakhouse in Mexico City for her longtime mentor, Jean-Georges Vongerichten.

Zoi Antonitsas: Season 4
Back then she was a restaurant consultant from San Francisco, but this Seattle native started her culinary career at Dahlia Lounge at age 16. Also a competitor on the Chicago season: Antonitsas’s then-girlfriend, Jen Biesty. After the show, Antonitsas worked in Sonoma, then returned to Seattle; these days you can find her turning out some stellar dishes working with Cormac Mahoney at Madison Park Conservatory.

Robin Leventhal: Season 6
Originally from Sun Valley, Idaho, Leventhal used to own and operate the popular Seattle bistro Crave, which closed in 2008. She was a divisive figure in the Vegas season, and the cause of some particularly Top Cheffian drama and on-camera smacktalking. After a brief turn as opening chef at Stopsky’s Delicatessen on Mercer Island, she remains a fixture around Seattle doing catering, culinary instruction, menu consulting, recipe development, staff training for new restaurants, and a ton of local events.

Ashley Merriman: Season 6
The chef who balked at catering a wedding during the Vegas season is now making a name for herself in New York as the executive chef at the well-regarded Waverly Inn. During her years in Seattle, Merriman worked as head chef at Branzino and sous chef at Tilth, serving under her self-proclaimed culinary hero Maria Hines.

Ty-Lör Boring: Season 9
Back when he worked in Seattle, Boring just went by plain old (okay, boring) Tyler. He was the opening chef for the original Marjorie in Belltown and also cooked at the now-closed Jitterbug in Wallingford (newly reborn as TnT Taqueria). Now he cooks in Brooklyn, doing personal cheffing, dinners, demos and such. We would also be remiss not to mention his naked modeling gig.

Simon Pantet, Colin Patterson, Nina Vicente, and Ashley Villaluz: Season 9
The Seattle victims of the Texas season’s infamous first-episode bloodbath are all alive and well and still cooking around town. Simon Pantet recently left his gig as sous chef at Tavolata to run the Urban Nomad food truck. Colin Patterson’s still serving up organic vegetarian prix-fixe meals at Sutra (and apparently bought a farm recently, in the literal sense). Ashley Villaluz is catering with Metiza Catering. Nina Vicente was cooking for Spur when the season aired, then transferred to sibling reataurant The Coterie Room, but she's no longer part of the McCracken and Tough mini-empire. At least, not in the professional sense: She's engaged to chef Brian McCracken.

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