Brian Malarkey embraces his Top Chef All Stars LA opportunity

TOP CHEF -- Season:17 -- Pictured: Brian Malarkey -- (Photo by: Smallz & Raskind/Bravo)
TOP CHEF -- Season:17 -- Pictured: Brian Malarkey -- (Photo by: Smallz & Raskind/Bravo) /

In Top Chef All Stars LA, Brian Malarkey might have made some bold choices. While he can always spark a discussion, he never loses sight of his opportunity.

For Brian Malarkey, Top Chef All Stars brought an opportunity to return to the pinnacle of food television cooking competitions. While he has appeared on many food programs, Top Chef set him on a path to a hugely successful culinary career. Even with all those accolades, the offer to return to the Top Chef kitchen could not be turned down.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Chef Brian Malarkey. Like many people in the culinary world, the famous chef and restaurateur is learning to adapt to the new norms of the restaurant industry.

While he is hopeful that the bustling restaurant scene will eventually return, the road ahead is a winding one. From dabbling in takeout to finding other ways to pivot, he is always thinking, moving forward and, in a way, “malarketing.”

In this season of Top Chef All Stars LA, there have been many Malarkey moments. From his eye catching fashion to his exuberant front of the house personality in Restaurant Wars, no one would ever call Malarkey a wall flower. While he might be a divisive personality on the Top Chef, Malarkey knows who he is and embraces all that he is.

When presented with the chance to return to Top Chef, he understood the privilege that he was being given. With multiple new restaurants opening at the end of 2019, the exposure that Top Chef offers chefs is unlike any other opportunity and he was ready to grasp it. Looking back at his first appearance in Season 3, this cooking competition made him a known quality. He went from working in other chefs’ kitchens to having chefs work for him in his restaurants.

Malarkey understands that many foodies specifically dine out at the restaurants by celebrity chefs. He mentioned that when a person travels to San Diego, they may want to seek out one of his restaurants because of his Top Chef association. He might not be the fan favorite, but people want to experience his restaurants and his food because of his association with the show.

While the known factor might bring people in the door, the food and the service has to deliver. As seen in his two most recently opened restaurants, his restaurant team does deliver. Both restaurants have been highly acclaimed by critics. From creative menus to beautiful ambiance and perfect service, it is the whole package. Still, he needs to keeping engaging with foodies to stay relevant.

In some ways, Malarkey understands that his personality puts him in a unique category. As a chef, he needs to take charge and be the voice that is heard. While those qualities might not always be appreciated, he accepts who he is.

As seen in many of his social media posts or his recent fundraising efforts for restaurant workers, he can and does laugh at himself. Love him or not, he has everyone talking about him. In some ways, that aspect of “malarketing” is paying off as much as any Top Chef title.

Even if you shake your head at some of Malarkey’s dishes or his comments on Top Chef All Stars LA, there is a touch of approachability in his cooking philosophy. As seen in his recent Bluprint cooking class, he makes recipes relatable to the home cook.

Malarkey understands that certain ingredients or cooking concepts might be foreign to some cooks but it should not impede people from getting into the kitchen. He thinks that cooking is and should be fun.

So what if you don’t have gochujang in the cabinet or even know how to pronounce it. Look for what condiments do you have in the pantry. Referring to some of his recent cooking videos, he encourages home cooks to use what is in the pantry. Play with ingredients and flavors. Food is fun, entertaining and about being in the moment.

He engages a conversation with people. By asking people why they like a flavor or want to use an ingredient, he shows how everyone can get in the kitchen and cook. And, yes, he is willing to use mayonnaise in a recipe and you should, too. Life is too short to avoid certain foods, ideas or approaches just because he is a well-known chef. Enjoying the experience is paramount.

That entertainment factor tends to drive Malarkey in some of his approaches. Whether it is the bold fashion choices he makes on camera or his willingness to push the envelope in the kitchen, he will command your attention. While a delicious dish is always important, he does believe that the moment around the table is just as vital.

From putting the phone away during dinner to the memorable conversation around the food, those moments make every bite just better. Just like Malarkey, himself, it is a total package that cannot be parsed into pieces.

Regardless of whether or not Brian Malarkey wins Top Chef All Stars LA, he has made an indelible impression on the culinary world. Beyond his numerous successful restaurants, he has found a way to spark a conversation about food in a way that others cannot. Even those haters still want to taste his food and he will take that fact as a win.

Looking ahead, there could be even more Brian Malarkey in foodies’ future. Although he wishes that he was featured more on Top Chef, he will be ready to welcome everyone at his restaurants when the doors re-open. Whenever that big party might be held, many people will be clamoring for a seat at the table. No matter what, it will be an unforgettable celebration.

And, Malarkey says that there are many more hours of his outtakes in the Top Chef Vault. Maybe that highlight reel might be a special feature for some upcoming Top Chef event. Wonder if extra footage would reveal why he went back to the ice cream machine this season?

Brian Malarkey is part of the Puffer Malarkey Collective restaurants, which has concepts in San Diego and Orange County. Additionally, he offers online cooking classes, Cooking with Malarkey.

Top Chef All Stars LA airs on Bravo, Thursdays at 10 p.m. EST.

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Have you eaten at one of Brian Malarkey’s restaurants? What has been Malarkey’s most memorable moment in this Top Chef season?