Reverse the Curse?

Can the CIA reclaim its throne as Top Chef champ?

When it comes to the performance of its graduates on the popular reality-TV show Top Chef, the once-mighty Culinary Institute of America seems to be in a bit of a funk. In each of the first three seasons, the show’s titleholder was a CIA grad: Harold Dieterle in the first season, Ilan Hall in the second, and Hung Huynh in the third. Since then, however, no CIAer has come out on top. Season 4 saw alumnus Richard Blais snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at third place, while the best the Valley institution could muster in Season 5 was Leah Cohen’s sixth-place finish.

Laurine Wickett

Hector Santiago

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Bryan Voltaggio

Eli Kirshtein

So what’s the story behind the slump? Complacency? An anti-CIA conspiracy? Judge (and noted chrome dome) Tom Colicchio’s secret envy of CIA president Tim Ryan’s full head of hair? Whatever the reason, here’s hoping the Hyde Park school reclaims the top spot in Season 6, currently airing on Bravo. The four contestants with CIA backgrounds to start the season were Laurine Wickett, a San Francisco caterer; Hector Santiago, chef-owner of a Latino tapas joint in Atlanta; Bryan Voltaggio, partner in a three-star restaurant in Maryland; and Eli Kirshtein, former sous chef to Blais. The winner receives $125,000 in seed money to start a restaurant of his or her own. Who knows? If a CIA grad wins the pot, maybe he or she will return to the ol’ stomping grounds and open an eatery right here in the Valley.


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