I have been a super fan of Top Chef ever since it premiered many years ago. Their fifteenth season, set in Colorado, was the only one that I didn’t catch at first when it was airing new episodes on Bravo.
Luckily the hit culinary show, which earned yet another Emmy nomination earlier this year for Outstanding Reality Competition Series (it won back in 2010), was made available on streaming some time last month and I was able to catch up within a matter of days. It was here that I was sort of transfixed on one contestant, and it went beyond just how damn handsome he was.
Joseph Sasto (or Joe for short), caught my eye immediately as one to watch as the show progressed. Yes, he has a sexy mustache and sure his dishes are mouthwatering (he even referenced his “meat” in one episode) but there was a story behind both of those aspects that made me like and appreciate him that much more.
He talked so deeply about his late mother and how she inspired a lot of his cooking today. On a personal level, I could relate to this as my mother (who was also a chef) passed over 10 years ago and she’s a big reason as to why I’m a writer today. But that’s besides the point. That storyline, mixed with everything else already mentioned, made him a force to be reckoned with on a show that has been beloved by millions of viewers for years.
Sadly, he came up short in the end and placed third behind my fellow Harlem resident Adrienne Cheatham and eventual winner (and bear, woof) Joseph Flamm. Now the skies appear to be the limit for the talented chef a year after his season has finished, and his excitement over what’s next can easily be seen behind that legendary mustache of his.
I spoke with Joe recently about his experience on Top Chef, why a challenge that featured a popular gay Olympian (Gus Kenworthy) was his favorite, his huge gay following, and what’s next for him.
What was your overall experience on Top Chef like last year?
It’s crazy to think how much of a life changing experience it was. I'm so grateful for all of the doors and opportunities it has opened. The end of the season airing was actually just the beginning. It was like a culinary boot camp for chefs. There was so much learning, growing and transformation that happened; and the camera only captured a small part of it. It really makes you dig deep and ask yourself what matters most to you. I was able to find my voice as a chef, figure out my culinary direction, and how to best represent myself through food.
Did you have a favorite challenge that you did from your time on the show?
I get asked this question all the time, and I feel like everyone already knows what I am going to say. The Olympic Challenge! Having the TC Kitchen turned into a stadium of sorts was so energizing. To be cooking running around in front of a huge crowd with signs and them cheering us on all brought a whole new dimension to cooking. It was inspiring to say the least.
What was the fan response to you as the show went on?
It was very interesting to see how I was portrayed. I didn't necessarily get the best response from the first episode. I think I threw a lot of people off with the whole mustache, “California Love”, foraging kind of vibe I had. But my story arc continued, and people were able to see the genuine me. They saw the real passion I have for cooking and the amount of thought behind everything I do, people could really relate to that.
I had no idea the amount of positive impact I would have from sharing the story of my mom, cooking, and her passing from cancer. I am humbled by the amount of people that reached out to me and were able to find comfort and relate to my story having suffered from a similar loss. We are all in this together, and food has an intrinsic power to bring people together.
What is your culinary life like now post Top Chef?
The entire Top Chef experience is what you make of it. I genuinely enjoy connecting with fans and others through food. Right now I feel especially blessed being able to travel the country, doing pop-up dinners and events; bringing people together through food. Perhaps there is just more pressure now to ride that wave and make the most of this opportunity. But then again, that pressure is what chefs thrive on.
Were you surprised that you had such a large gay following?
I was actually not that surprised. I had done Chopped a few years prior to Top Chef and despite only being on one episode, there was a large amount of feedback and people from the community reaching out with support and blind date offers.
What's it like dating in the culinary world?
I’ve been lucky enough to have had a partner for years now. She is my rock, my support, and my inspiration. One thing I have learned over the years is how important it is to date someone who understands the amount of work and sacrifice this career requires. The long days, longer nights, and non-existent holiday and family time makes for a non-ideal relationship partner. But if you're able to find someone who is able to appreciate, and understand, and even share that love of food and hospitality, you would be wise to not let them go.
What are your biggest dreams moving forward and how do you plan to accomplish them?
I'd be lying if I didn't say my dream is to open my own group of restaurants. The concepts are all thoroughly played out and meticulously crafted in my head, and now slowly being transcribed into an actual business plan on paper. My goal is to connect with the right business partners and people with a similar love and passion for food to make those dreams a reality.
For more information on Joe, click here.