Heather Terhune Learned How to Take Risks from 'Top Chef'
After going head-to-head on “Top Chef” with six other chefs from Chicago when she was the executive chef of Sable Kitchen & Bar, Terhune came home to a much busier restaurant than before.
She’s since helped launch Tre Rivali at Kimpton’s newer Journeyman Hotel amid Milwaukee’s recent culinary boom.
How do you view your time on “Top Chef”?
Either you find “Top Chef” fun or not fun at all; I found it to be a lot of fun. It was also a pretty challenging season. We started with 32 chefs out of a pool of 300, and went down to 16 after the first round. It was an honor just to be on the show.
How did the show help your career?
The show helped me a lot, and the longer you are on, the more it seems to benefit you. I was among the top 10, and I got a lot of opportunities and sponsorships from that. You’re taken a little more seriously. It was also amazing for the business. We had a packed house every night the show was on that year.
I wasn’t portrayed in a great light, but I tried not to let it get to me and know that this is what I signed up for. But now I have many people coming to see me and wanting to say “hi” or see if I’m yelling at my whole staff, which I’m not.
How did you handle some of that negative feedback?
I actually had my sister manage my social media accounts, because people say the nastiest stuff. I once had someone tell me I should drop dead! I am just someone who is on a competition show. I feel bad for actors and other famous people constantly in the public eye.
Regardless, the show really helps you brand yourself, and I made some really great friendships from it. You’re together all the time, you don’t have a phone, no TV, no newspaper, little contact. I had to have my sister send ghost emails to friends and even my own family because I couldn’t tell anyone I was on the show. I even had to have the hotel tell my staff that I was going on a sabbatical for eight weeks.
How did the show help you become a better chef?
It definitely boosted my confidence and made me think outside the box and learn how to take risks. When I was on the show, I had just turned 40 and was wondering if I could still hang. Most of the other contestants were 10 or more years younger than me. I didn’t want to get kicked off first or second, but as I kept going I really got some momentum. A lot of people think the show is scripted, but the judges are really judging everything in real time.
They say you’re only as good as your last dish, and I still think that is true. But I thought it was super fun to compete and branch out and learn new things.
It’s also great to just be away from your own restaurant for a while and work with other chefs and not have to worry about schedules or whether there are enough reservations on the books. You can just be yourself, make friends, and cook.