By Shawn Chitnis
ASPEN, Colo. (CBS4) – A year after the reality TV series “Top Chef” finished at the 2017 Food & Wine Classic, the chefs competing that season say Colorado left its mark on them and those experiences continue to guide their careers.
“I love Colorado, I’ve almost moved here three different times,” said Joe Flamm, winner of “Top Chef” season 15. “Getting to do the show here, I think the greatest thing was how much of Colorado we got to see.”
Flamm is the executive chef of Spiaggia in Chicago and returned to the sight of his victory from the Bravo series at the 2018 Food & Wine Classic in Aspen. He says he has visited Colorado since he was 14 going on ski trips with his uncle to Steamboat Springs each winter.
“For me, this is really my first year here,” Flamm told CBS4 in Aspen. “It feels super special for me that this is my first year at the Classic.”
“Top Chef” filmed its 15th season in Colorado taking 15 chefs through a culinary competition across the state. The show eliminated a different chef each week until only one was left standing, Flamm. Along the way, the show traveled through Denver, Boulder, Telluride, and Aspen.
The finale of the show ended with an intense competition at the Classic in 2017. The show aired later that year and Flamm was revealed as the winner of the chef competition series in March. So he never felt like he was truly attending the food and wine festival, because he was a contestant on the show.
“This is your year to be back at the place where you won and make this your victory tour,” said Tony Mantuano, managing partner at Spiaggia.
Mantuano and Flamm hosted a party together in Aspen during the Classic. He says the entire team at the restaurant cheered Flamm on all season, concluding with a finale celebration that closed down the entire restaurant as people watched the show projected on large windows in the heart of Chicago.
“The restaurant is a 34 year old restaurant,” Mantuano told CBS4. “So to get that new energy, that infusion of maybe just a little bit younger demographic is pretty cool.”
Flamm has become so popular that he does not have time to take photos with fans in the restaurant and often has them come to the kitchen, Mantuano added. He says Flamm’s victory has helped to change the image of their restaurant in the eyes of some diners that may have considered it a place for their parents.
“Top Chef is not coming into any old place,” said Hunter Lewis, editor-in-chief of Food & Wine magazine, which hosts the Classic each year. “That’s a point of pride for sure.”
Lewis was in Aspen for the event and said the show’s selection of Colorado came at a time when the state is getting noticed for its own culinary scene, outside of the annual festival. It was an element of the series that the constestants picked up on in their short time in Colorado. Returning to the region for the Classic was not only a chance to revisit the experience of that competition but also to realize a personal dream.
“I can’t wait until I get to go to Food & Wine as my own, it always seemed like a goal that was so much further away than it was,” said Joe Sasto. “It’s unreal that’s it’s been a year.”
Sasto also competed on the season of “Top Chef” in Colorado. He was one of the featured chef’s at the Classic’s welcome party.
“How much has happened in that year but yet it still feels like it was yesterday,” he told CBS4. “Just goes to show how impactful that experience was that is still feels so relevant and current to everything that I ‘m doing today.”
Sasto is the executive chef at Cal Mare in Los Angeles. He says this year at the event he got to see Aspen in a new light without the restraints of the show.
“We didn’t really get to even experience the city,” he explained. “We were walking around today and yesterday and we were like, ‘Oh my god, this town is so small, everything is right here.’’
Chef Fatima Ali also joined the two Joes at the welcome party for the Classic. She was the third contestant from the show invited to participate in the event that night. Chef Brother Luck also attended the Classic as a vendor inside the Grand Tasting during the weekend.
Sasto says one of the most memorable moments of the show and his time in Colorado was the episode that took place in Telluride. He spoke about the loss of his mother.
“One of the things that I would have never even imagined as a result of the show was the kind of the platform social media has created and given me,” he said.
Many people that experienced a similar loss reached out to him and Sasto felt like he was able to provide a level of support through interactions with those viewers.
The impact of social media on their careers and the role they now play in the industry because of the show is just one takeaway both Joes agreed on from their time in Colorado. The other is the beauty of one of the final locations they visited on that season.
“Telluride was just one of those places that was just, almost life changing,” said Sasto. “One of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to.”
He says during the show, they often did not know where they were going but enjoyed the view of the mountains in the car each time. Flamm also had nothing but high praise for the town.
“There’s no explaining it,” said Flamm. “This is the most beautiful place on earth.”