Top Chef Guys Struggle With Life in the Wild

Dave Martin, the runner-up in the first season of Bravo’s Top Chef, stepped off the plane from L.A. into a frigid New York City February, eager to seize the culinary reins of the new Cajun eatery Lola in Soho.

Mr. Martin was perhaps best known for uttering the line, “I’m not your bitch, bitch.” Now, he’d been transcontinentally recruited to helm the ovens of what was supposed to evolve into a hot spot in one of his new city’s hottest neighborhoods.

“They contacted me from the show, basically,” Mr. Martin told The Observer. “I got an e-mail, ‘Hey, we’re looking for a chef.’ It was too great an opportunity to pass up.”

Over the next several weeks, he carefully prepared a menu of Southern fare with touches of French and Caribbean flair. He even hosted tastings for potential Lola investors out of his own home, while the Watts Street restaurant remained under construction.

“I had all the vendors set, the menus set,” he said. “We did tastings every week with the investors, and I went through the whole life cycle of getting everything up and ready. But then, right before we got closer to being open, I was like, ‘Eh.’”

In May, Mr. Martin abruptly bolted, taking his recipes with him.

A similar scenario played out for Sam Talbot, the tall, dark and handsome Top Chef semifinalist and “fan favorite” from last season. The 28-year-old had come earlier to New York from the Carolinas, catching a big break with a big splash on the reality-TV show.

Mr. Talbot’s next act was going to be heading up the kitchen at a new Lower East Side burger and oyster joint called Spitzer’s Corner.

“I didn’t go for a ‘celebrity’ chef,” said Spitzer’s co-owner Rob Shamlian, via e-mail. “I just didn’t know any chefs, so when I saw Top Chef, I figured that Sam was a good cook. I had no idea the celebrity part would even factor in.”

Mr. Talbot’s involvement generated a ton of publicity for the forthcoming restaurant.

Yet his high-profile persona proved incompatible with management. “Talbot and the owners couldn’t come to terms on the direction of the restaurant,” according to a May 15 statement, “so they decided it was best to part ways.”

In the weeks since the split, Mr. Talbot has been spotted hanging out in other people’s kitchens and feasting amid the Aspen, Colo., female population, while Mr. Shamlian has been left to wrangle with contractors over building specs and with local Community Board 3 over his liquor licenses and planned outdoor seating. “We’ve been a week away from finishing since mid-May,” Mr. Shamlian said.

Top Chef Guys Struggle With Life in the Wild