Season 16 of Top Chef — premiering at 9 p.m. Dec. 6 on Bravo — again has two competitors from Philadelphia among the cast of 15.
And as the hit show’s producers provide a mix of personalities to create dramatic tension, Edmund Konrad and Natalie Maronski could not be more different.
“He is a real goofball outside of work,” said chef Nicholas Elmi, Konrad’s boss at Laurel on East Passyunk Avenue, who himself was the winner of Top Chef Season 11. “But once those stoves get turned on, you see how serious he is."
As for Maronski — who spent a decade in Jose Garces' restaurants (notably as the opening chef at Volver) and who is developing a restaurant of her own, which she declined to discuss — the seriousness was present on and off the clock. “You really have to get to know her,” said Tim Spinner, an owner of the Feliz restaurants who was chef at Amada in Old City when Maronski worked there earlier in her career. “Super-talented, with great creativity. You always knew there was something special about her.”
Maronski, 34, freely admits to being reserved — something the audience will see. But the six weeks of filming in Kentucky, with the finale in Macau, had its benefits, she said. “My takeaway was to let go a little and not be afraid to be myself,” she said.
Maronski and Konrad looked at Top Chef as a sabbatical of sorts.
“I wanted to do something out of my comfort zone and challenge myself,” said Maronski, who was raised in northern Virginia and who moved to Philadelphia to enroll at Drexel University. “I’m not only talking about chef duties, but putting myself out there on a personal level and letting people see who I am.”
In addition to Amada and Volver, she was a chef at Garces' Tinto and Chifa after starting her career in server and kitchen roles at Lacroix at the Rittenhouse. Her last full-time job was opening chef at Lou Bird’s in Center City.
“Top Chef was one of those things I wanted to do," Maronski said. "I knew a little about it. But I had never been to Kentucky, so for me it was like checking the box of a new experience. Not everybody gets to do this. They had called me a few seasons past [to be on the show] and this time, I said, ‘Why not say yes to this.’ It fell together.”
At the time last spring, Maronski was in the early stages of planning her restaurant — rumored to be at the Divine Lorraine Hotel on North Broad Street — and spending time with her family.
The time away from his wife and son was a consideration for Konrad. “My wife [Keri Lynn] was my biggest proponent,” he said. “We’re adults. She knows I’m coming back.” (Their toddler son, Roman, was confused. “When he saw me afterward, his jaw dropped and he said, ‘Dada?’ He was a little scared of me for a second, but after a few minutes, he gave me the biggest hug.”)
Though the filming meant taking a break from Laurel, the rigors of the competition were huge, said Konrad, 32, who grew up in Port Richmond and who has a degree from Johnson & Wales. “The pressure makes you a better chef and builds confidence. As a chef in a restaurant, you’re not in these [competitions]. Most of the time, you’re standing on one spot. The show broke up the monotony and gets you fired up again. For me, the show was more about competing against yourself.”
Elmi and Konrad will host a public viewing party during the Dec. 6 premiere at In the Valley, the bar next to Laurel, at 1615 E. Passyunk Ave.