What You Need to Know About Top Chef’s Local Alumni

BY Steph Wilson

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Colorado has a long history of Top Chef contestants, and this year, under new host Kristen Kish, local chef Manny Barella takes to the spotlight. With a backstory flipping from law to ladles, Barella ran the now-closed Bellota inside The Source. There he was named a semifinalist in the Emerging Chef category during the 2022 James Beard Awards, as well as a StarChef’s Rising Star the same year. Now he brings some serious heat to season 21, starting March 20. 

Meanwhile, Colorado’s already got a flavorful history on the show. From Hosea Rosenberg’s victory lap to Byron Gomez’s gourmet gambits, our local chefs have been dishing dining experiences that resonate far beyond their TV tenure. Some chef personalities, including Richard Sandoval and Ludo Lefebvre, have restaurants here, but they don’t call Colorado home. 

As we prepare to watch Barella’s knife skills on the show, let’s take a moment to celebrate the eight chefs who have carved up Top Chef fame into a veritable feast for the Centennial State. These alumni act as a reminder that, when it comes to food, Denver’s cooking up a storm that has got the whole country watching.

Hosea Rosenberg

Hosea Rosenberg with apron and holding food
Hosea Rosenberg has a long history as a chef in Colorado. | Photo by Linnea Covington

Season 5 Champion

Restaurant(s): Blackbelly in Boulder and soon-to-be Denver, and Santo in Boulder

Boulder’s Hosea Rosenberg came out triumphant on Top Chef Season 5, which gave him the notoriety to turn a catering gig into the culinary haven known as Blackbelly. His ethos always revolved around farm-to-table and local foods. With Blackbelly, Rosenberg started Boulder’s first-whole animal butcher shop and market, specializing in house-cured charcuterie. 

Now under the moniker of Little Piggy Hospitality, Rosenberg’s empire has added Santo to Boulder’s dining scene and will soon open a new Blackbelly outpost in Denver. With accolades from Michelin and a nod to Kelly Kawachi, the group’s butcher, for her sustainable practices, Blackbelly’s Denver debut is eagerly awaited by meat aficionados citywide. blackbelly.com

Eliza Gavin

Season 10 

Restaurant: 221 South Oak in Telluride

Chef Eliza Gavin made a splash on Top Chef‘s Season 10. But before that, she flexed her kitchen skills in New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York City, and Japan, eventually landing in Telluride in 1999 and opening 221 South Oak. The restaurant resides in a historic home, and Gavin serves up seasonal plates of new American fare good enough to get her a stint on the show. 

Unfortunately her time on Top Chef ended prematurely. However, Gavin got to relive her television days by hosting the Season 15 team for a memorable episode filmed in Telluride. For those craving a taste of Gavin’s post-Top Chef world, a trip to the stunning mountain town promises culinary excellence with a side of celebrity chef charisma. Throughout the winter season, Gavin hosts Eliza’s Wine and Delectable Pairing Classes on Thursdays, imparting insight about how to cook appetizers, finger foods, and canapes and pair them with wine. 221southoak.com

Travis Masar

two men sitting at white table with brick background
Top Chef alumni Travis Masar (left) has a restaurant in Boulder. | Photo by Pig and Tiger

Season 11 

Restaurant: Pig and Tiger in Boulder

Travis Masar’s journey through Top Chef Season 11 was a culinary odyssey that took contestants from the gumbo-laden streets of New Orleans to the diverse culinary landscapes of San Francisco, Boston, Miami, and Maui. During the trip, he had a memorable pit stop in Colorado. Masar, a Colorado native who formerly worked at Tommy Lee’s Uncle, notably whipped up a pork sausage lettuce wrap with pineapple shrimp paste that clinched a win during Restaurant Wars. Ultimately, Masar managed to secure tenth place. 

Known on the show as Captain Vietnam for his adeptness with Vietnamese cuisine, Masar leveraged his Top Chef exposure to further his culinary career. Eventually he circled back to Colorado to open Pig and Tiger in Boulder, which he co-owns with chef Darren Chang  Situated in the bustling Avanti Food & Beverage collective, Pig and Tiger is Masar and Chang’s homage to Taiwanese cuisine, blending traditional recipes with contemporary twists, while championing local Colorado ingredients. pigandtiger.com

Jennifer Jasinski 

chef jen jasinski holding a lobster next to diving helmet
Chef Jennifer Jasinski (left) with her business partner Beth Gruitch (right). | Photo by Bryan Grant

Top Chef Masters Season 5 Finalist 

Restaurant(s): Rioja, Bistro Vendôme, Stoic & Genuine, and Ultreia, all in Denver

Denver’s culinary scene boasts its own celebrity chef in Jennifer Jasinski, a Wolfgang Puck protégé turned local gastronomic guru. With a portfolio that reads like a foodie’s dream tour of Denver, from Rioja’s Mediterranean flair to Ultreia‘s gin and tonic sophistication, Jasinski’s touch is golden. Jasinski’s Crafted Concepts, the name of the restaurant group she runs with Beth Gruitch, continues to thrive.

While locals knew of the chef’s skills, her stint on Top Chef Masters in 2013 showcased these as she battled culinary giants. Over the course of the season, she won $35,000 for Work Options for Women, a Denver nonprofit that teaches food-service skills to women in poverty. Not only did Jasinski take home the prize, but she showed the world just how awesome she and her restaurants are. craftedconceptsdenver.com

Brother Luck

Seasons 15 and 16

Four by Brother Luck in Colorado Springs

One of the best reasons to head to Colorado Springs is to eat at chef Brother Luck’s upscale southwestern restaurant. There’s a reason, after all, that he did so well during his stints on Top Chef. The first round was during season 15 with chef Carrie Baird. The second occurred the next year, though his cameo didn’t last long. 

A loss for Luck proved a gain for Colorado Springs. The chef’s local fans were thrilled to have his attention returned to the kitchen, which he opened on Cinco de Mayo in 2017, just days before he left for taping Top Chef. Not that his absence stalled the restaurant’s propulsion to the forefront of the area’s dining scene. Luck is also a James Beard Award nominee, and made a notable appearance on Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay, where his skills were put to the test again on the screen. fourbybrotherluck.com

Carrie Baird

chef carrie baird in front of red door in denver
Chef Carrie Baird opened Fox and the Hen in Denver. | Photo by Jenni Summers

Season 15 

Restaurant: Fox and the Hen in Denver

Representing Colorado not just in spirit but also in our state, where season 15 aired Carrie Baird dazzled Top Chef judges with her innovative “fancy toast,” propelling her into the semifinals. It’s not surprising she got so far. As a protégé of chef Jen Jasinski’s Rioja and Euclid Hall (the latter closed in 2020), and tenure at Bar Dough (part of the Culinary Creative group), Baird has a strong Mediterranean and Italian cooking background. 

However, it was the chef’s quickfire prowess and composed on-screen presence that cemented her as a culinary contender. She moved on to other shows too. In Beat Bobby Flay she bested the master with a huevos rancheros, a dish that now stars at her latest venture, Fox and the Hen in Highland. Beyond her breakfast escapades, Baird steers The Culinary Creative’s Americana division, ensuring Tap & Burger and Red Tops Rendezvous echo her commitment to culinary excellence and innovation, serving up a slice of Americana with a Baird-inspired twist. foxandthehen.com

Byron Gomez

chef bryan gomez in front of fire and oven
Chef Byron Gomez now runs the kitchen at Brutø. | Photo by Jeff Fierberg

Season 18 

Restaurant: Brutø in Denver

A lot of buzz surrounded Byron Gomez’s launch into head of Brutø’s kitchen, which just gained a shiny Michelin star. But for Gomez, it took quite the ride to get there. Gomez was born in Costa Rica, seasoned in New York’s culinary crucibles such as Café Boulud and Eleven Madison Park. In Colorado he was tested in Aspen’s high-altitude dining scene as executive chef at the now shuttered 7908 Aspen.

During his stint on Top Chef in Portland, Gomez went far, getting to the tenth episode and participating in the first ever Tournament of Tofu. Today the show is just another thing Gomez has done as he manages the kitchen at one of Denver’s best restaurants. brutodenver.com

Ryan Dishman

Top Chef Amateurs Season 1

This Top Chef spinoff in 2021 gave talented home cooks the opportunity of a lifetime to test their skills. On Episode 11 of Season 1, Making Ends Meet, Denver’s own Ryan Dishman came out the victor. A software salesman by trade and self-taught home cook by night, it was a huge step for him to shed the professional side and go all out. Today Dishman periodically publishes restaurant reviews and recipes on his website, Mile High Dish, milehighdish.com

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steph Wilson

Steph Wilson is a writer, editor, and creative maximalist in Denver. She makes magazines for a living and throws color around the world like confetti for fun.

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