Of those who walked away with the actual Top Chef title (and $100,000 prize), only Season 1 champ Harold Dieterle has his New York restaurant, Perilla, up and running. His menu offers one dish similar to one created the show —a grilled hanger steak with sunchoke creamed spinach (the original had lamb) — but Dieterle now shies away from the spotlight.
"I don't like going into the dining room," he says. "I'm more comfortable back in my kitchen."
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 coming soon, and Season 4 Top Chef Stephanie Izard is looking at Chicago.
Some past competitors do step away from their kitchens long enough to watch the new crop of Top Chef contenders.
"I have to," Malarkey says. "Some nights, no one even cares what I'm making. They just want to talk about Top Chef."