Top Chef Guys Struggle With Life in the Wild

Community Board 3 might seem entirely uncompromising when it comes to halting area bar sprawl, especially along Ludlow Street, where 21 existing venues between Houston and Delancey streets already sell alcohol.

But what about the unflinching perfectionist tendencies of a celebrity chef?

And, more to the point, why even bother with the likes of Mr. Martin and Mr. Talbot, however delicious their concoctions and buzzy their reputations? According to the 2007 Zagat Survey, a scant 21 percent of New Yorkers seek out restaurants with celebrity chefs. Yet restaurant owners still choose to stock their kitchens with big-name cachet .

According to Mr. Martin, ego had nothing to do with his split. “I’m not trying to be some diva celebrity or any of that bullshit,” he said. “All I want to do is make great food and make people happy. And I need to be in an environment where I can do that. Unfortunately, this venue, there were too many things that I was worried about.”

Mr. Martin politely declined to mention specifics. Perhaps he was worried about his own reputation. Prior to Mr. Martin’s arrival, the restaurant became embroiled in controversy, besieged with litigation from neighborhood activists seeking to block its liquor license. The feud was particularly nasty, with charges of racism and of intimidation tactics.

Financing might have been another issue. After a Manhattan Supreme Court judge initially invalidated their license, Lola owners Tom and Gayle Patrick-Odeen initially lost all their investors. Court appeals and construction costs further added to the high start-up costs. The threat of further litigation still looms over the yet-unopened eatery.

“I just saw too many things that I couldn’t control,” Mr. Martin said.

As both Mr. Martin and Mr. Talbot now pursue other projects, maybe they should follow the advice of fellow Top Chef alumnus Harold Dieterle, who recently opened Perilla restaurant in Greenwich Village: Be your own boss.

“We aren’t relying on anyone else,” said Mr. Dieterle, who partnered with investor Alicia Nosenzo in launching the restaurant.

“It took me over a year of personally being unemployed to raise all the capital and find the location,” the show’s $100,000 grand-prize winner said.

Being on TV “certainly got my foot in the front door,” Mr. Dieterle added, “but that is about it.”