Now that you’ve gotten to know Top Chef: Charleston competitor Emily Hahn, executive chef at Warehouse, let’s take a look at her competition. Battling this year for Top Chef supremacy are eight returning cheftestants and eight newbies.

So who is Hahn up against?


First, there’s Jamie Lynch. Does the name sound familiar? That’s because he oversees 5Church Charleston as well as 5Church Atlanta and Charlotte. Here’s what we know about him: he’s covered nearly head to toe in tattoos and in an interview with Kathleen Purvis for the Charlotte Observer, Lynch confessed that should he fail, “I could be the laughing stock of North Carolina.”

Brooklyn’s Silvia Barban is another new kid on the show. She’s Chef/Owner of Aita Restaurant and LaRina Pastificio e Vino and hopes to be Italy’s first Top Chef winner.

Annie Pettry‘s name should also be familiar. She was here last year and competed in the Waffle House Smack Down that I judged with United’s Michael Anthony and Mission Chinese Food’s Danny Bowien. Pettry, the owner of Louisville, KY’s Decca lost in the end, but from what I’ve seen in the Smack Down arena, the woman is a perfectionist and should put up a good fight.

Sylva Senat is from Philly’s forthcoming Maison208. He’s a native of Haiti and, fun fact, worked at Jean Georges’ restaurant at Trump Hotel.

Gerald Sombright, Chef de Cuisine at Ario on Marco Island, Fl., calls his cooking style “nostalgic edible.” And that’s all I have to say about that.

Right on trend, BJ Smith runs Portland, Ore.’s Smokehouse 21, a Southern-style barbecue joint. Naturally we’re curious to see how he does when Rodney Scott makes a cameo.

Interestingly, contestant Jim Smith from Montgomery, Ala. doesn’t have his own restaurant. Rather, he’s the Executive Chef of the State of Alabama. What the hell does that mean? Well, Smith cooks all the meals for Gov. Robert Bentley and his family in addition to planning and preparing menus for events sponsored by the State.


This season’s returning cheftestants are a successful lot. Sam Talbot, who can’t seem to shake being named one of People magazine‘s Sexiest Men Alive competed in Top Chef Season 2: Los Angeles and placed third. Talbot is no stranger to Charleston, however. He attended Johnson & Wales here. And I interviewed him prior to his Charleston Wine + Food Festival visit back in 2008.

This is the third time on the merry-go-round for Casey Thompson. She was on Season 3: Miami and Season 8: All-Stars and lives in Napa Valley, CA but is the exec. chef at Inn at Rancho Santa Fe.

Even though Amanda Baumgarten (Season 7: Washington, D.C.) has a killer chef CV — she’s worked at four Michelin-starred restaurants — today she’s getting her masters in mixology working as a bartender at Chicago’s The Victor Bar. Might make her a tad rusty in the kitchen, but who knows.

Brooke Williamson (Season 10: Seattle) lives in L.A. where she and her husband run Hudson House, The Tripel, Playa Provisions and Da Kikokiko. As if that wasn’t enough, she’s managed to find time to compete on Top Chef Duels, win a battle on Esquire Network’s Knife Fight, and hosted MTV’s House of Food.

Maui’s Tin Roof owner Sheldon Simeon was also on Season 10: Seattle where he finished as a finalist. But although he was a “Fan Favorite,” Simeon told the Hollywood Reporter that he was a “hot mess in front of the cameras at the beginning of the show.” Having lived through it once though, he might have the upper hand with his stage fright out of the way.

In 2011, D Magazine called John Tesar (Season 10: Seattle) the meanest chef in Dallas. That reputation continues to precede him. But does the chef of Knife at The Highland Dallas and oldest participant in this season still have his edge?

Shirley Chung (Season 11: New Orleans) lives in Orange County, Calif. where she’s chef and partner of Twenty Eight. Chung has opened restaurants for Thomas Keller, Guy Savoy and Mario Batali, and she nearly took the win in NOLA, ultimately placing third. Incidentally, celebrity judge Emeril Legasse thought she should have won.

And this season’s final competitor is arguably one of the show’s faves. Katsuji Tanabe‘s personality is as over the top as his style. The Season 12: Boston competitor lives in L.A. where he runs Mexikosher Restaurant. The Mexico native was raised by his Mexican mother and Japanese father and brings a Kosher twist to his Mexican cooking. He also competed on Top Chef Mexico.

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