Chef Harold Dieterle has done what many others have failed to do: he's whipped 15 minutes of reality show fame into two successful, critically acclaimed New York City restaurants. After winning Season One of Top Chef in 2005, he opened Perilla in 2007 and Kin Shop last year. He's since become something of a living legend. The New York Times has written that Dieterle "cooks from the Thai larder as if he had stepped out of a novel by John Burdett, a farang who can see ghosts, who knows that the mind is a Buddha's seat, who bleeds fish sauce." The chef explains to Inc.com contributor Clarissa Cruz how he went from a reality show to, well, reality.
Before appearing on Top Chef, were you concerned it would hurt your credibility as a chef?
Not really, I wasn't thinking long term just yet and was a sous chef at The Harrison when I signed up. I was more focused on how I could push my career forward and thought that the show might be a good way to do that. I'm also really competitive and liked the idea of a competition.
After you won, how did you react to the fame and recognition? How did it affect your experience with opening Perilla?
Honestly, I was a bit shocked at first. The show was an instant hit and it certainly put a lot of new eyes on me. It was a bit stressful, but as a chef you just put your head down and get things done and that's kind of how I tackled it. Once we opened Perilla the expectations were high from the start, especially from the critics. It was received well though and I'm proud of what we've done in the past four years. We have a great base of regular customers who've been coming in since the start, but some folks definitely still come in because of Top Chef.
What steps did you take to ensure that you were taken seriously as a chef and not just a reality show winner? Are there opportunities that you turned down?
We (me and my business partner Alicia Nosenzo) put everything into opening Perilla and we really only wanted to focus on that. I turned everything down at first and worked nearly every service for the first six months. There were some sleepless nights, but it was worth it to make sure the restaurant was firing on all cylinders. While I appreciated all the opportunities, I never wanted to be viewed as a reality-show winner, but as a great chef—and hopefully with Perilla and Kin Shop people see that.
Why did you decide to open a second restaurant?
After traveling to Thailand for the second time, I became very passionate about Thai food and culture and that's when I knew I wanted to open Kin Shop. The various flavors and ingredients are really exciting for me.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now it's all about keeping both Perilla and Kin Shop running smoothly. It's a tough industry, but we are fortunate to have great teams in place at both restaurants.