Since its 2006 debut, Bravo’s Top Chef has churned out scores of contestants who’ve gone on to culinary greatness. Some boasted coveted Michelin stars and James Beard Awards before appearing on the show; others used the exposure to become household names. Over the course of the series, 17 chefs have survived the grueling challenges to claim the winning title. We’re ranking the five best Top Chef winners in the series’ history. Take a look and see if you agree with our picks, and find out what the winners are doing today.
5. Richard Blais (Season 8)
After losing to Stephanie Izard on Season 4, Atlanta chef Richard Blais returned for a second chance at victory on Season 8’s Top Chef: All-Stars. Fans and judges were particularly impressed with his knowledge of molecular gastronomy—a cooking style that was very on-trend at the time. He never needed an excuse to bust out liquid nitrogen and other chemistry lab ingredients to dazzle the judges.
Where Is Richard Blais Now?
Blais is now a fixture on TV, appearing on various Food Network programs (Guy’s Grocery Games, Halloween Baking Championship, Cutthroat Kitchen) as both a judge and competitor. He was also a judge on MasterChef and MasterChef Junior.
As a chef and restaurateur, he is the founder of Trail Blais, a restaurant consulting company. His latest project is Ember & Rye, a beautiful modern steakhouse inside the Park Hyatt Aviara in Carlsbad, California.
4. Brooke Williamson (Season 14)
When Brooke Williamson was edged out by Kristen Kish on Season 10 of Top Chef, she never predicted she’d get a chance at redemption. But by Season 14, she got the call to try again.
“I said absolutely not,” Williamson told Food and Wine in 2018. “I came in second—what are the chances I could ever do better than that?”
Ultimately, Williamson changed her mind. By the end of the season, she emerged as the winner, thanks to a decadent final meal of oysters, octopus, pork and beans, and flan.
“I feel like anything you can do to remain relevant and stay in the public eye, then why not?” she asked herself when deciding to return. “I was creating more opportunities for us as a family—and fortunately, it worked out.”
Where Is Brooke Williamson Now?
Williamson was once the youngest woman to ever cook at the famed James Beard House in New York City. Today, she’s a seasoned chef and restaurateur. She and her husband Nick Roberts currently run Playa Provisions in Playa del Rey, California. Two of their other restaurants, Hudson House and the Tripel, closed in 2020.
3. Stephanie Izard (Season 4)
Season 4 champ Stephanie Izard made history by being the first female to win Top Chef. Izard got her start with legendary chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten and even owned her own Chicago restaurant, Scylla, before she made her reality TV debut.
Izard won judges over with her diverse palate and broad knowledge of cuisines; she also won the title of “fan favorite” for her low-drama personality.
Where Is Stephanie Izard Now?
Izard has become a success with her Chicago-based family of restaurants. The Girl & the Goat and its sister concepts (Little Goat, Duck Duck Goat, etc.) earned her a 2013 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Great Lakes.
This month, the Top Chef winner will expand her footprint with a Los Angeles outpost of The Girl & the Goat.
2. Michael Voltaggio (Season 6)
Talk about the ultimate sibling rivalry. The finale of Top Chef Season 6 saw winner Michael Voltaggio face off against his brother Bryan and Kevin Gillespie to claim the title.
Yes, the match-up was great for ratings. But the brothers were both undeniably talented. The younger Voltaggio ultimately prevailed with his unique style and perfect execution. Judge Tom Colicchio even offered a rare rave about his performance.
“Michael wasn’t showing off,” said Colicchio. “His dishes are thoughtful. They make sense. To me, he’s trying to make good food, and he uses techniques to that end. His food is new and it’s different, but it’s not so far away from tradition. Out of all the cooks that have come through the show, Michael is the most talented—both from a sensibility and technical standpoint. He has the chops to pull off what he’s trying to do.”
Where Is Michael Voltaggio Now?
After his win, Voltaggio opened a number of concepts in and around Los Angeles: Ink, Ink.Well, and Ink.Sack. He also teamed up with his brother Bryan to open Voltaggio Brothers Steakhouse at MGM National Harbor.
The siblings have an affinity for fish, too. They own and operate two seafood concepts on both coasts: Estuary in Washington DC and STRFSH in Santa Monica, California.
1. Paul Qui (Season 9)
After the end of Top Chef Season 9 in 2011, judge Tom Colicchio declared winner Paul Qui the best contestant in the series’ history, dethroning Voltaggio who previous held the title.
“Paul Qui, who won that season, I think is the most talented chef that we’ve ever had on the show,” Colicchio told HuffPost in 2014. “In fact, we had to dumb down how good he was, because it would’ve been pretty obvious that he was running away with everything.”
The Filipino-American contestant was trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Austin, Texas. He also worked under acclaimed chef Tyson Cole before appearing in the reality competition. His classic technique, combined with his knack for Asian cuisines, sealed his fate. Qui won eight of the season’s 16 elimination challenges, absolutely crushing the competition.
Where Is Paul Qui Now?
Qui followed his victory with a 2012 James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest. He then opened a series of concepts in Texas: his flagship restaurant, Qui, a street food joint called East Side King, and Southeast Asian eatery Thai Kun. In 2016, he opened Pao by Paul Qui in Miami. Two years later, he opened Aqui and earned a rare four-star review from the Houston Chronicle.
Unfortunately, the chef’s messy personal life led to a fall from grace. In March 2016, Qui was arrested and charged with two misdemeanors. A police report revealed that his girlfriend was found at his apartment with a “fresh cut on her right forearm and bruising on her upper arms,” as well as a swollen jaw.
“I am innocent of the charge of assault,” Qui said in a written statement. “This situation made me realize that I need to take more time for my health and myself. I will be checking myself into a treatment facility in the coming days and I am appreciative of the support of my family, friends and partners. Thank you for respecting my privacy.”
The charges were dropped in 2018, but Qui has since struggled to repair his image. He continues to have a financial stake in Thai Kun, East Side King, and Pao by Paul Qui, but several of his other restaurants have closed.
We want to believe that his commitment to rehab and therapy will allow for peace in his personal life. Until then, good or bad, he remains the most formidable competitor in Top Chef history.