Top 5 reality TV cooking show contestants with Minnesota ties

Have any Minnesota chefs made the cut?
Have any Minnesota chefs made the cut?

When former Stillwater resident Molly "Cruise Ship" Brandt, the only contestant on the current season of Top Chef who has Minnesota connections, got eliminated in the qualifying round with her mousseline of shrimp, the Hot Dish had to find a new underdog to root for. While smart money is on domineering but well-rounded Lindsay Autry, the elimination got us taking a look back at some of the other reality TV "cheftestants" that made us swell with hometown pride.

5. Contestant: Jamawn Woods. Show: America's Next Great RestaurantOutcome: Winner 
If this show isn't ringing any bells for you, it's probably because NBC canceled it after one season, which is almost as fast as the doors closed on all three locations of its winning contestant's restaurant, Soul Daddy. Woods didn't have roots in Minnesota, but the Mall of America was chosen as one of only three cities nationwide for his healthy soul food concept eatery. Despite early failures in the restaurant business, in September Woods announced his plans to the Star Tribune to salvage the restaurant's name, recipes, and equipment and open a Soul Daddy this spring in his hometown of Detroit.    

4. Contestant: Justin Davis. Show: Next Food Network Star (Season 7). Outcome: Eliminated in the fifth round
The NE Minneapolis-based food blogger and stay-at-home dad hung on by the skin of his teeth for a respectable five weeks before getting eliminated in the uncomfortable "Diners, Drive-Ins, and Fourth of July" episode. The self-taught techniques and "offbeat" (read: glasses) looks that initially attracted judges to Davis lost their luster over time, and they ultimately cited a lack of identity as the reason for giving him the boot. Davis and his wife now run a catering company that donates 3 percent of every sale to Twin Cities Second Harvest.  

3. Contestant: Chris Thompson. Show: Rocco's Dinner PartyOutcome: Runner-up
As executive chef of popular Minneapolis food truck Smack Shack (menu also available at the 1029 Bar), Chris Thompson definitely knows his way around a crustacean. Unfortunately, the same was not true in his heavy handling of a piece of foie gras with quail eggs, Serrano ham, and blueberry gastrique. Thompson did make  it past the first round, allowing him the chance to cook for one of comedy/media's coolest couples, Samantha Bee and Jason Jones, but lost to the lady who made tiny individual jars of jam for all the guests. Lesson: Never underestimate the power of tiny foods. 

2. Contestant: Brian Malarkey. Show: Top Chef  (Season 3). Outcome: Eliminated in the first round of the finals
Told by a fellow contestant Howie Kleinberg that he would never be hired in his kitchen because he was "too pretty," Brian Malarkey, a former employee of the Loring Cafe and the Local and once the sous chef at Oceanaire, took great pride in his reputation as both a skilled seafood chef and a dandy charmer. With several quick-fire and elimination challenge wins, including a nod-to-Minneapolis dish he called the "Chino Latino" and another that featured Spam, Malarkey would have been in the top two of any other season. However, fans will remember that Season 3 was the "Miami season," also known as "season of Hung," and no one was going to beat Hung. 

1. Contestant: Marcus Samuelsson. Show: Top Chef Masters (Season 2). Outcome: Winner
Maybe it's a little bit of a cop-out to put a world-renowned James Beard award-winner in the top slot, but any Minnesotan who watched this particular season of Top Chef Masters felt at least a flutter of pride when Samuelsson, the former executive chef of Minneapolis's once-famed upscale Scandinavian fusion restaurant Aquavit, won. Especially in the moment where he decided to make smoked fish for his final, defining meal. Perhaps it would have been more authentically Swede to make something pickled, but the fact that Samuelsson won and donated $115,000 to UNICEF Tap Project would silence any critic.

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