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Philly's Sylva Senat and 'Top Chef': 'Why don't I be on TV and chase that?'

The chef also talks about his restaurant, Maison 208, opening this winter.

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.

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

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.

What do you think of your competitors?

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?

What brought you to Philadelphia?

Your next stops?