BY Dan Avery
August 20 2009 12:00 AM ET
Merriman, who hails from the aptly named Center Sandwich, N.H., attended the Institute of Culinary Education in New York and is now the executive chef at Seattle's Branzino restaurant. The 32-year-old says her food is "robust."
"When customers leave my restaurant I want them to feel like they got beat in the face with a stick of butter," Merriman says. Her first experiences in the kitchen were as a child, tagging along with her waitress mother. "When I was little we were on welfare. I would go to the restaurant with my mom because we couldn't really afford daycare."
Mistry, 33, who trained at Le Cordon Bleu in London, is now the executive chef at Google's headquarters in California. Her approach to cooking is influenced by her Indian heritage, classic French training, and San Francisco-born belief in using fresh, local ingredients.
"I don't like to use anything out of the box," Mistry says. "I'll make my own masala, toast my own sesame seeds. That's how we did it at home." It was her mentor, Traci Des Jardins of Acme Chophouse, who encouraged her to apply to be on Top Chef. "She's always been a big influence," Mistry says. "If she tells me to do something I do it!"
While Mistry relished being on the show, she says she wasn't the biggest fan of Sin City. "What's that line from 'Men on Film'? 'Hated it!' Las Vegas has a lot to offer to people from smaller towns. But for someone who lives in a big city with lots of restaurants, gay life, and shopping, there's a lot to be desired."