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Eberly Chef Jo Chan Takes Her Skills to Bravo’s “Top Chef”

Chef making pasta

Eberly Chef Jo Chan Takes Her Skills to Bravo’s “Top Chef”

The young culinary star talks about her time on the show, her passion for pasta and her hopes for the future

By Tolly Moseley
Photos by Brian Fitzsimmons

The year she decided she wanted to become a chef, Jo Chan was — in fact — watching “Top Chef.”

“The last challenge we had with Chef Hung, he was our guest judge,” Jo explains to me, back home in Austin after competing on and filming “Top Chef” Season 19. “It was the season he won that I watched, so it was really cool to see him and be a part of the challenge. A true full-circle moment, and so many times, I felt like I was doing this for the baby version of me.”

Portait of Eberly chef Jo Chan
Eberly’s masterful Executive Chef and “Top Chef” Season 19 contestant, Jo Chan.

Jo is 30 years old, throttling full steam ahead on a culinary career marked by New York training and a California childhood. But don’t get it twisted: she’s no overnight success story. In 2012, she moved to New York City and promptly stationed herself at Nobu Fifty Seven, before eventually landing at Barbuto in the West Village, working under Jonathan Waxman. Next, she traveled through Scandinavia with James Beard winner Marcus Samuelsson, acting as traveling Executive Chef. But after 10 years in the industry, Jo admits she got jaded — and after a global pandemic, which threatened to wipe out the likes of restaurants everywhere (including the one in Austin that boasts her as executive chef, Eberly), who could blame her?

With Top Chef, though, a new energy emerged. Something more optimistic. Something familiar.

MORE: 3 Delicious Recipes from Chef Jo Chan to Make at Home

Wooden bar with blue leather chairs
Built in 1866, Eberly’s historic Cedar Tavern Bar is an exquisite addition to the restaurant.

“Especially coming out of the pandemic, ‘Top Chef’ felt like this very hopeful thing,” she said. “It took me back to the roots of why I wanted to have this career to begin with. Stepping into the ‘Top Chef’ kitchen and hearing Padma say, ‘We’re about to do our first Quick Fire,’ it becomes very real very fast. And yet incredibly surreal, to be standing there in front of those judges I used to watch on TV.” Fortunately for Jo, she won that first Quick Fire challenge — and everyone came out of the woodwork to cheer her on.

“It’s like you hear from your high school English teacher, your best friend from middle school that you told one time you wanted to be a chef … there’s been this incredible outpouring.”

I ask Jo about the other competitors on “Top Chef” this season, remarking that maybe it’s just me, but there seems to be a real camaraderie there. Less cutthroat, more communal; less showboaty, more earnest.

Plate of Eberly's Rigatoni Pomodoro
Rigatoni Pomodoro

“As people, we’ve all gone through an intense battle,” says Jo. “So on-set, that was a lot of the conversation in our downtime: how all of us have shifted, what their restaurants went through, who lost positions, how we can best take care of our people,” says Jo. “As much as it’s a competition, and we’re all very fierce competitors, we kept saying to each other, ‘Wow, after two years of not really being able to gather this is the most talent I’ve gotten to sit with in a very long time.’”

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This season takes place in Houston, and as any “Top Chef” aficionado knows, the show has a soft spot for Texas cuisine (remember 10 years ago at the Salt Lick, with those poor competitors cooking BBQ into the night?). I ask Jo the differences between Houston and Austin’s dining scene, and her answer points toward the city that raised her: Los Angeles.

“I grew up in L.A., and Houston reminds me so much of it. There are these pockets of neighborhoods dedicated to specific cuisine, whereas in Austin, we like to blend everything,” says Jo, gesturing at the immigrant communities that characterize the two, Houston and L.A. “Those communities have managed to gather and create cultural spaces in the city, and listen, my parents were immigrants. Every single Sunday, we never went shopping at your regular grocery store. We always drove into town to the Chinese and Filipino centers and did all of our grocery shopping there. That’s where they felt comfortable and safe.”

Large leather couch in restaurant with green wallsSpeaking of comfort, Jo has a vision for her next project here in Austin, one that carb fans will welcome — and these days, aren’t we all carb fans?

“I mean you watched how everyone made bread during the pandemic,” Jo chuckles. But for her, bread won’t be the centerpiece: pasta will.

“There’s just this quick service version of pasta that I really want to explore,” Jo tells me. “In my career, no matter how far I go from it, I always end up coming right back to pasta. It’s that thing that keeps luring me back in,” Jo tells me, explaining how they experimented with a pasta dish as a special at Eberly, and now there’s an entire menu section devoted to it. To pique the interest of your tastebuds: one of those dishes, at the time of printing, is a mushroom mafaldine: the pasta of tight waves and ridges, this one covered in forest mushrooms, parmesan and a dry white wine sauce. Hungry? Me too.

Bowl of Eberly's Spaghetti Alla Chitarra
Spaghetti Alla Chitarra

Amidst it all, Jo is participating in Indie Chefs, a 24-chef culinary event benefiting Good Work Austin, and, oh yeah — planning a wedding. Life’s busy. And no doubt will continue to be as “Top Chef” wraps, and viewers all over the country hang on Jo’s delicious creations.

“What’s amazing is, this community embraced me before ‘Top Chef,’” says Jo. “So it just feels like coming home, a celebration that I got to represent Austin. But at the end of the day, this community was good to me before, and I know they’ll be good to me after.”

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