Two dozen home cooks with a penchant for performing — including Pembroke Pines resident Tamara Johnson — are the stars of the premiere season of Top Chef Amateurs. The series debuted July 1, immediately following the season 18 finale of Bravo's Top Chef in Portland.
Johnson, the founder/editor of the Razzle Dazzle Life food blog, was discovered via her Instagram account, where she shares images of her favorite dishes and recipes while covering the Fort Lauderdale and Miami food scene as a Yelp! Elite member.
A dental hygienist by day, the self-taught chef launched her website in 2019, shortly after moving from Houston when her husband relocated for a job. What began as a passion project quickly turned into a thriving small business, the mother of four says. Popular recipes include the family's favorite garlic-butter seafood boil, her great-grandmother's peach cobbler, and her own take on birria tacos.
"I began it just for fun. So many people were emailing and texting, asking for different recipes. I decided a website would be the easiest way to catalog all my favorite dishes," Johnson tells New Times. "I quickly realized how lucrative it could be and began taking it seriously."
Johnson's hard work paid off when, during the height of the pandemic, she was recruited to compete in Bravo's new show.
Hosted by longtime Top Chef judge Gail Simmons, Top Chef Amateurs follows 24 home cooks as they compete for the title of top newbie chef. In each 30-minute episode, two amateur contestants go head to head, each with an assist from a past Top Chef professional contestant. Judges put the participants' culinary skills to the test in Top Chef-themed challenges like the mise-en-place race and the blind taste test. The winner receives a $5,000 cash prize and culinary bragging rights.
This week, Top Chef fans can tune in on Thursday, July 29, to watch as Johnson competes alongside Kwame Onwuachi, a season 13 Top Chef competitor recognized by Food & Wine magazine and the James Beard Foundation for his memoir, Notes From a Young Black Chef.
"The best part about this show is that we compete like professional chefs," says Johnson, who prepares a mole-style sauce during the competition. "Much like Top Chef, everything has the element of surprise, from who we're up against to what we're cooking — even the secret ingredient we have to use. The entire series is a lot of fun."
Top Chef Amateurs airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on Bravo.