Life After Top Chef Stars: Then and Now
Fabio Viviani, Jennifer Carroll, Richard Blais, Spike Mendelsohn | Photo Credits: Trae Patton/Bravo
Top Chef will launch yet another spin-off on Wednesday, but this one will not feature any masters or just desserts. In fact, it's not a competition series at all. Life After Top Chef (10/9c, Bravo) will instead do exactly as the title says: offer a behind-the-scenes look at former cheftestants as they run or open restaurants, expand their brands and live their lives.
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The cast includes two-time cheftestants Spike Mendelsohn, Fabio Viviani, Richard Blais and Jennifer Carroll, each of whom are in varying stages of their careers since viewers last saw them on All-Stars nearly two years ago. So what have they been up to? And what can you expect this season? Keep reading to find out.
Then: 5th place, Season 4; 14th place, All-Stars
Mendelsohn infamously got booted in Season 4 for choosing to use frozen scallops and got axed on All-Stars for his tasteless shrimp — a dish suggested and modified by Angelo Sosa. "I'm not haunted by scallops," he tells TVGuide.com. "Losing has made my career happen for me. If I go on a show and win any money, it's all going to stop one day. Frozen scallops, I'm sure, are going to follow me for the rest of my life, but it's fine. I know how to cook scallops — really good ones too." As for All-Stars? "I look back, like, thank God Angelo isn't on Life After Top Chef," he quips.
Now: He owns Good Stuff Eatery and We, the Pizza in Washington, D.C.; opening a steak frites restaurant in 2013
Good Stuff, which currently has three locations, is a favorite haunt of President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama, both of whom have their own burgers on the menu. "I'm losing count [of how many times they come in]," Mendelsohn says. "I see them. I'm always there when they come in actually."
All in the family: Mendelsohn runs the restaurants with his family — and they fight. A lot. "Could you picture yourself working with your mother, father and sister? It's nearly impossible," he says. "Add the restaurant business into it and it's a near catastrophe. It's a successful catastrophe. We're good at what we do. Even if you see us bickering back and forth on the show, that's why our company's so great and our restaurants are so great. You have those heavy opinions in there."
Chef and... TV show creator? According to Mendelsohn, he pitched the idea of Life After Top Chef to Bravo. "I'm serious!" he says. "I think it's a way to show chefs in a different light. I think a lot of people saw that we each brought a lot to Top Chef and people want to see where our careers have taken us. They've put together a good group of chefs that are kind of diverse and are all on different paths of the business." But if he had his druthers, he wouldn't have cast one person. "If I had any say, Fabio wouldn't be on the show," he jokes.
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Then: 4th place, Season 5; 8th place, All-Stars
The endlessly quotable chef won Fan Favorite in Season 5 and got the boot on All-Stars after he made an ultra-dry "boor-ger" for Jimmy Fallon. "I'd pick Fan Favorite over Top Chef all day long," Viviani says. "I'm a crowd-pleaser. I guess I'm not a judges-pleaser! I like to have a good business, but money's not what drives me. $100,000 at the end of a day was a good deal if I were to win Top Chef, but after taxes, it's still $57,000, and that's an OK salary. I had that already, so that was not a driving force for me to win Top Chef. It was more about the accomplishment than the actual prize."
Now: Owns Café Firenze and Firenze Osteria in Moorpark, Calif.; opening Siena Tavern in Chicago in January; Domino's spokesman; has weekly Yahoo! cooking show Chow Ciao
"My restaurants are going fantastic," he says. "We're good. I am very, very blessed. I guess [the] bad economy is not affecting too much the crave for Italian. I'm in the people business, not just the food business. If people want to come in to say, 'Hi, pinch my ass' — whatever makes them happy!"
Bros for life? Viviani and Blais had quite the bromance on All-Stars, with the latter offering the former to join him on a trip after winning a challenge. But is the honeymoon period over on Life After? In the premiere, the relentlessly call each other out on their different cooking styles. Well, more so on Viviani's part. "I mess with him all the time!" Viviani says. "The more I make him uncomfortable, the harder I go at it. I love Richard, but I also love to push people's buttons. That's one fault I have. If I know something bothers you and you shouldn't be upset about it, I will push. I'm a straightforward shooter. I like to say things the way that they are."
As for that trip? It never happened. "He offered me to, but what do you want me to do? Go on vacation with him and his wife? Hold the candle at the table? I told him to sell my ticket and to give the money to his charity of choice," Viviani says. "I love to help people. I wasn't fortunate as a young kid [so now] I love to give back and helping people as much as I can whenever I can, so I told him to donate the money."
Turtle power: Don't be fooled by the people in chef coats, the true star of Life After Top Chef is Viviani's beloved pet turtle, for whom he has built a turtle pond in his home. "I can't wait for the show to be out so you guys can see that it's a hilarious pet," he says. "People don't get it, but turtles are fantastic pets. She's kind of a rock star. You don't just show her [in] the first episode. You have to see us first. When you go to a Madonna concert, you don't see her right away. We're the opening act."
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Then: Runner-up, Season 4; winner, All-Stars
The faux-hawked molecular gastronomist, in his own words, choked in the Season 4 finale, but redeemed himself by winning it all on All-Stars. "[Season 4 was] a blessing in disguise," he says. "I said it at the end of All-Stars: My failures served me well. If you look at anyone who's achieved what they wanted, they've probably failed on their way. Of course, if I had to go back, I wouldn't want to lose Season 4 to get to where I am. You always want to win, but I think it worked out well for me and I certainly can't complain about it. It's taught me some lessons as a chef, as a restaurateur, as a person."
Now: Owns Flip Burger, which has three locations, The Spence and HD: Haute Doggery in Atlanta
The opening of The Spence will be featured on Life After. Blais "definitely" has plans for more restaurants, including projects on the West Coast, but nothing's set in stone yet. Flip will expand to at least one more location next year and will eventually be nationwide. "There's a strategy to it all," he says.
Stressed out: Life After is obviously not a competitive reality show, but Blais found filming it more nerve-wracking than Top Chef itself — this coming from the guy who was admittedly "stressed and crazy" on All-Stars. "I had done a few competitions, so I knew what that was like. But inviting the cameras into your life for a few months every day and having my family involved is a lot more stressful," he says. "I'm more concerned about how I come off as a husband and dad and a businessman than I was going into a Top Chef competition about how I would come off as a chef."
Pack your knives and don't go: Just because Life After is candid, don't think that any competitive fire is missing. Blais almost gets into Elimination Challenge mode after seeing Top Chef Season 9 winner Paul Qui and Viviani at the Aspen Food & Wine Festival in the premiere. "I'm competitive by nature," he says. "But I do think the competition doesn't start until Top Chef ends. That's why I'm excited about watching Life After as a viewer. It doesn't really matter if you've won Top Chef. It's what you do with the time after, what did you learn, how did you grow? I do compete in a very friendly way with Spike and Fabio all the time. We will send each other texts about stuff and we do give each other some locker-room smack talk. The nice thing is you don't have to worry about being eliminated here."
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Then: Fourth place, Season 6; 17th place, All-Stars
Carroll was one of only four cheftestants to win an Elimination Challenge on Season 6 and notoriously launched into a profanity-laced tirade at Judges' Table on All-Stars before getting eliminated. Her rant disappointed her mentor, the calm, cool and always collected Eric Ripert — and he let her know it. "He's very professional. That's what he's taught me to be over the years. At that moment, all of his teachings went out the door!" Carroll says with a laugh. "My emotions came to the forefront. Eric said, 'That's not the way you want to represent yourself and not what you want to be known for.' And he's right! I really was a lot more reserved and definitely held myself back [on Season 6]. That definitely changed on All-Stars. I went in with guns blazing. I wanted to take everybody out and win, and obviously that was not the way to do it."
Now: Will open her first restaurant, Concrete Blonde, in the West Village in New York City next year
Carroll is the only chef of the four on Life After who at the start of filming did not have her own restaurant after a previous deal fell through. "You can probably tell on the show I was really bummed, but it feels so good now to finally be working and moving forward and having so much positivity around me," she says. "Being able to do all the small stuff, like filling out paperwork, it's tough but it's so rewarding. I'm just thrilled."
Something's fishy: Life After will chronicle the early stages of Carroll finding investors for Concrete Blonde. The restaurant will be seafood-focused with "a bunch" of vegetarian options. Carroll is also hoping to do a fishing concierge service with the place. "We've come up with this idea of dock-to-dish, playing off the whole farm-to-table idea," she says. "We have three fishermen who are solely fishing for the restaurant and we're in the process of experimenting different ways of getting the fish from the boat to the restaurant within 24 hours because usually the fish changes hands four times. We also want to make it a CSF, like a CSA [Community Supported Agriculture], so our neighbors could order a pound of fish for a week like they would a pound of vegetables."
More crazy Jen: Maybe not All-Stars-crazy, but Carroll promises that viewers will see a different side to her and is hopeful that that will change some fans' opinions about her after her foul-mouthed diatribe. "There's so much more to me than just being in the kitchen," she says. "I have a very fun side and a caring side, and a wild and crazy side! You get to see my whole personality. There were definitely some crazy times. I have a huge family. I have two sisters. My mom's one of six, my dad's one of 11, so I have a ton of cousins, and we all like to go out and have a good time! I'm hoping there'll be some stuff cut out!"
Life After Top Chef premieres Wednesday at 10/9c on Bravo.