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Each season 16 Cheftestants compete against each other completing near impossible challenges. But before they make it to the show they have to go into the selection process. Cheftestants are away from their families, jobs, friends, and have to focus 100% on their goal of winning. What inspires these contestants to compete in the first place and endure the grueling schedule? It’s not an easy decision but six of the competitors share their experiences and motivation:

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Bruce Kalman
Bruce was convinced by previous contestants and winners Brook Williamson and Michael Volaggio. Bruce says the following:

“I’ve done a lot of cooking competition shows such as [Chopped and Beat Bobby Flay] and I kind of said I’m not ever competing again, and after the last one I did, I was just done,” Bruce stated. “But in talking to them, they both kinds of had the same thought, which was, what would be the reasoning behind you doing the show? Is it because you want to be on TV or because you want to compete? And my reasoning was to help basically build the restaurant and grow sales and… build a brand, and those are the right reasons to do the show, for me.”

Tu David Phu
Tu David Phu said that the rigorous audition process “was intense”.  He was inspired by former cheftestant Ryan Scott. Tu was quoted saying the following about his experience.

“I was featured on his radio show as a chef here in the Bay area and we got to connecting,” Tu explained. “We got to talking, and he made a suggestion; I never thought of it before. ‘You should go on Top Chef, you’d be perfect for it. You’ve got a killer resume. I was on Top Chef, I know you’d kill it.”

“I kind of wear my emotions on my sleeve and I was very open about my story, and I think they wanted to help me tell my story, which I appreciate,” he said.

Tu is a French-Italian trained chef who’s specialty is Asian food.

Brother Luck
Auditioning three years in a row for Top Chef he had decided to call it quits:

“After last year, not getting a phone call back after getting so far in the interview process, I was like, ‘I’m done, it’s too much of an emotional drain,'” he revealed.

A casting director read some of his published essays about his experiences traveling in Asia and decided to contact him.

“In order to really stand out amongst so many applicants, I think you need to be yourself,” Brother advised. “You need to be comfortable with who you are, you need to be open about your past and your current feelings and not hold back. You’re not trying to sell an adventure or sell a personality, you need to be yourself.”

Carrie Baird
Top Chef producers originally called the Colorado resident to try out for the show after reading an article recounting Chefs favorite meal for 2016. Former cheftestant Jen Jasinski wrote that hers was Carrie’s four course tasting menu at her restaurant Brazen. Carrie speculates that this article is what motivated them to contact her. Carrie had previously auditioned for the show.

Tanya Holland
Top Chef casting producers likewise sought out Tanya Holland, who had previously turned down multiple offers to apply for the show. “They have called me many times over the past 10 years [since Brown Sugar Kitchen has] been open but I just kept saying no… it’s not really my thing, the competition, I’m more of a collaborator,” she revealed.

Although Tanya had a booming restaurant business, two cookbooks, and a Food network show already under her belt she decided after being contacted by Top Chef producers to compete.

“I still really wanted to do more television and those opportunities weren’t really presenting them self so I thought, let me take this opportunity to get in front of the camera again, see what happens,” she explained, adding, “I have new projects and it’s just a great publicity opportunity. And I’m just sort of at the point where I want to be in front of the camera more regularly and let me see what kind of doors this might open.”

Tanya was inspired by the success of other Top Chef cheftestants, such as Brooke and Richard Blais (Season 4, Season 8), who encouraged her to audition. They convinced her it was a game changer opportunity.

And when Tanya got the call offering her a spot on Season 15? She turned it down. “I was like, I just don’t think I can do this right now, I just feel like it’s a step backward,” she admitted. But after talking to her agent, some of her staff, and Brooke, she changed her mind. “I just decided to go for it.”

Fatima Ali
Fatima was initially contacted four years ago to compete. She says:

“I declined that year because I thought I was way too young and I didn’t have the kind of experience that I knew was necessary to be on the show,” she recounted. “And then fast forward to last year, I actually had the same casting director reach out and this time I accepted and I went through the whole audition process because I knew I was much more comfortable in my cooking style and I had a much more direct point of view when it came to my food, which I didn’t have back then.”

Fatima, who is now 28, was just 21 when she won on CHOPPED and is this seasons youngest competitor. She did not know any other Top Chef competitors to consult but had this to say:

“I think because of all the media presence that was already there and the fact that I was age-appropriate and had a decent resume, I think all those things just kind of clicked,”

“I know no one personally who’s ever been on Top Chef, so I was just going into this completely blind basically, just understanding that I had to go into it my absolute best,” she explained. “I just really wanted to make sure I stood up against all the other fantastic chefs that I knew would be competing.

Watch the video for some insight into the second half of the season.

Written by Debbie H

“Never Give Up” ~ Debbie



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