Season 16 of “Top Chef” was an impressive one for the show’s female contestants, as four of the competition’s final five spots were occupied by women. What their next move may be remains to be seen, but if recent history is any indication, there’s a good chance they might end up in Los Angeles. Over the last few years, the City of Angels has attracted some of the most notable and memorable female “Top Chef” alums, including three of the show’s winners. Each has contributed to LA’s thriving culinary scene, and offer even more reason to head West.
Antonia Lofaso became a “Top Chef” legend after making it to the finals in the highly competitive fourth and eighth (All-Stars) seasons. She’s currently showing off her skills at a trio of restaurants across Los Angeles, including the nearly decade-old Black Market Liquor Bar in Studio City, and Venice hot spot Scopa Italian Roots. Her latest project, DAMA, allows Lofaso to showcase her flair for Latin-influenced cuisine with a menu that includes riffs on Mexican, Spanish, and Caribbean staples.
The O.G. of the group, second season contestant Betty Fraser has been a longtime fixture in the Los Angeles dining scene. Fraser opened daytime charmer Grub with partner Denise DeCarlo back in 1996, a decade before “Top Chef” debuted. The Hollywood institution is a go-to for comfort food favorites and is especially popular with the hangover crowd for weekend brunch (two words: crack bacon).
Season 10 runner-up and season 14 champion Brooke Williamson is the unofficial queen of Westside dining. The native Angeleno’s food empire–which she runs with husband Nick Roberts—covers everything from gastropubs to an ice cream scoop shop to poke to whiskey bar. Recently she collaborated on her very own beer with Orange County-based The Bruery.
Los Angeles has no shortage of poke spots, but Sweetfin is a standout thanks to the culinary wizardry of season 9 contestant Dakota Weiss, a longtime veteran of the local dining scene. Sweetfin has been a hit across Southern California and while the fast-casual chain offers a build-your-own bowl option, it’s best to go with one of Weiss’s signature creations such as the spicy gochujang salmon with asparagus, shiitake, bean sprouts, and crispy garlic, or the tropical mango albacore topped with a vibrant ponzu lime sauce and served with macadamia nut and ginger.
Elia Aboumrad performed double duty on “Top Chef” competing in seasons 2 and 8. Aboumrad is a familiar face in Los Angeles, earning critical acclaim for her intimate Sunset Strip wine bar Gorge. Currently she works alongside her husband Christian Page at popular throwback burger joint Cassell’s, which boasts three locations across Los Angeles. While Page handles head chef duties, Aboumrad is in charge of desserts, churning out killer classic pies which rotate seasonally.
Good luck snagging a table at season 12 winner Mei Lin’s Nightshade. The upscale Arts District sensation, which has been a runaway smash since opening earlier this year, showcases the finesse and whimsy that Lin displayed when she took home the “Top Chef” crown. Nightshade’s globally-inspired menu is constantly in flux but you can be sure to find the restaurant’s signature ma po tofu lasagna, an early candidate for breakout dish of 2019.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Nyesha Arrington made her city proud when she competed on the ninth season of “Top Chef.” Her first solo effort, Native, has been a much-needed addition to the Santa Monica dining scene with a menu that deftly weaves together the culinary diversity of L.A., most notably her Korean heritage.
Shirley Chung was a force to be reckoned with during her two “Top Chef” stints, earning the bronze in season 11 and the silver in season 14. Chung, who was born and raised in Beijing, earned some local love back in 2014 when she opened her modern Chinese restaurant Twenty Eight in Orange County. Last year she made her official Los Angeles debut with Ms. Chi Cafe which boasts two locations: the flagship Culver City cafe and a stall at downtown’s The Fields LA food hall. Her menu combines Chinese classics with non-traditional East meets West fare highlighted by the jumbo cheeseburger potstickers, which fans may recall earned Chung a competition victory on “Top Chef.”
There’s perhaps no bigger name in the world of reality television cooking competitions than Stephanie Izard, who has the unique distinction of holding a “Top Chef” title and official “Iron Chef” certification. This summer she’ll be making her long-awaited Los Angeles debut, opening a branch of her sensational Chicago gastropub Girl & the Goat in the Arts District—that’s right, Izard and fellow “Top Chef” champion Mei Lin will be holding court mere blocks from each other. Izard promises she’ll be bringing some of her tried-and-true specialties from the Windy City (fingers crossed the wood oven-roasted pig face makes the journey west) and adding some new menu items especially for L.A. Needless to say, Girl & the Goat is destined to be one of the toughest reservations in town. (Get Stephanie Izard’s Blood Orange and Escarole Angel Hair Pasta recipe.)
Gather & Graze by Stephanie Izard and Rachel Holtzman, $23.79 on Amazon
Chef Izard also has a cookbook full of 120 of her favorite recipes for tasty good times if you want to make her food at home.
Chinese Heritage Cooking From My American Kitchen by Shirley Chung, $14.57 on Amazon
If you can't make it to L.A., cook from chef Chung's collection of fantastic modern recipes with authentic flavors.
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Header image courtesy of Ms. Chi Cafe/Facebook.