Top Chef's 14th season premieres at 10 p.m. Dec. 1 on Bravo, and the Philadelphian at this stove this time is chef Sylva Senat, who is developing a restaurant at 208 S. 13th St. in Washington Square West called Maison 208. (It's supposed to open in January with several nifty design features including a retractable roof; he and his partners leveled the former Letto Deli and put up a two-story building, allowing the Mural Arts Program to create a mural that will start outside, above the roofline, and then "morph" down into the restaurant.)

This season of the show, shot in May in Charleston, S.C, has a twist. Senat and seven other new cheftestants compete against eight returnees.

In our chat, Senat came across as a TV neophyte. In fact, he was on Bravo's Recipe for Deception and Food Network's Chopped.

Tell us about Top Chef - what you can, anyway. How did you get there and what was it like?

It was amazing. It really put me out of my element. To tell the truth. I think we all have this perception of what reality television competition shows are, and I'm the guy that sits at home and screams at the TV. Meanwhile, my family or my sisters are like, "Why don't you just do the show, you know?" and I'm like, "No, no. I don't have the time. I think it's why it took awhile for me to get to Top Chef. It just became, "Why don't I be on TV and chase that?"  

How did you get to their attention?

I was actually at SouthGate [restaurant] with Harrison Kim, who's a chef friend from Osaka [in Lansdale], having a chef night out, and he basically said, "Hey, you know there's a Top Chef [audition] tomorrow at Sbraga." I was like, "Really, oh." Couple of whiskeys later, we go like, "If you go, I'll go." We both decided to wake up the next morning at like 8 and go to Sbraga and do casting for Top Chef. It's one of those things I've always wanted to but just never really had the time to, and it was just the perfect timing for me.

What did they make you do for the audition?    

You have to do the video and the head shots, a lot of pictures of your food, and the ideas of where you are in your cuisine as a chef and where you want to go and where you want to be. There was a lot of that and a lot of paperwork.

Tell us about the experience, just being in front of the cameras, cooking, and all the other stuff that goes along with being on Top Chef.

For me, it was definitely a new experience. I didn't realize there was going to be that many people in the kitchen, but I think it was more about the other chefs and just being in a kitchen with a lot of great talent and enjoying that aspect of it. It felt like a brand new restaurant opening. There's a lot of chefs around, there's tension, there're different styles and everyone's kind of like shooting for the same type of ingredients but then different dishes come out, so it felt like a restaurant opening every day with the challenges.

What do you think of your competitors?

You know I like my competitors. I think the aspect of the show this year, which is the rookies versus veterans, they brought back basically all-stars, eight all-stars and eight rookie chefs, which is chefs who have never been on the show. It's a genius approach. The idea of seeing the eight ... we're fans. When the eight veterans walked into the room, I was in awe. It was a little fan boy-ish for me, from a chef point of view. It was us chefs with superstars so when they walked into the room I knew it was game on and the competition was truly, truly like what I wanted to be at the moment.

What was your takeaway?  

I think my biggest takeaway was the idea and the simplicity of being myself and doing my cuisine and chasing for my ultimate dream, which is my own restaurant and to do food that I love.

I guess that leads us to here: Maison 208.  

The food is going to be fun, inviting, a little refined, and we want it to be very approachable. We want this restaurant and the food to just be as if it was always part of this neighborhood and part of this landscape. We don't want to take too much away from where we are, and we're going to have new American cuisine with French undertones.

So it's not French-French, it's ...

No, it's not French French at all. Very homey. Bar bites upstairs. We want it to be more of a social hour, like the décor is very plush, living room-ish style. We also plan on using it for private parties and private banquets. Downstairs is about 65 seats. We will have a chef counter toward the kitchen. As far as food, beautiful salads, light grilled fish, and I'm a sucker for roasted lamb.

Let's go way back. You were born in Haiti?

I was born in Haiti. I'm French-Creole. I've been in America since I was about 8 years old. I grew up in Brooklyn and toward my high school age, I got into C-CAP which is Careers through Culinary Arts Program, and that introduced me to fine cuisine in New York and I ended up spending about three years at the Sign of the Dove. That really shaped and opened my eyes to what a restaurant should be and how it should run and what true cuisine is. Being my first restaurant, I think I go back to that and for me a lot of the ideas that I have here at Maison kind of came from that. That was like a beautiful townhouse in 63d street and the idea of having it called Maison, and being home and having great food and being surrounded by hospitality and style and people that you enjoy, which is why the name is very french but the idea and concept of it is very homey.

What brought you to Philadelphia?

I was working at the Mercer Kitchen at the Mercer Hotel and I started working ... I met one of my chef friends, Leo Forneas, who's at Twisted Tail now. He was working at Buddakan [in Philadelphia] and was opening a new Buddakan with Michael Schulson [in New York]. He gave me a call and said hey, there's this new restaurant by Stephen Starr, great restaurateur out in Philly. Why don't you come and check it out? So I went to Buddakan and I ended up spending a little less than a year at Buddakan and then I won a competition that sent me to France and I ended up spending four months in Lyon at the Paul Bocuse Institute through a Daniel Boulud scholarship through C-CAP. After that I left, I went to Puerto Rico and I opened a restaurant at the El San Juan Hotel. That was right around 2007 or 2008, so with the economy crashing, I was making my way back to New York. I had set up a tasting with Stephen Starr in Buddakan and I ended up doing the tasting here in Philly. Stephen offered me the chef de cuisine at Buddakan here in Philly and that's how I ended up in Philly.

Your next stops?

I met [restaurateur] Munish [Narula] and then I ended up at Tashan [a modern Indian restaurant] for more than two years.  After Tashan, I started a consulting group and I have great individuals around me. That's where we came up with the idea of Dos Tacos [a taqueria on 15th Street near Sansom]. We continued with Maison, so right now it's just a small consulting group - just me and a few guys [Herb Reid III, a developer, and Ryan Dorsey, a nightclub operations specialist] who are service-oriented. We just want to move forward and build places like Maison and fun, approachable fast casual places like Dos Tacos.