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'Top Chef' Winners: Does The Bravo Cooking Show Help Boost Champion Chefs' Careers?

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Gail Simmons, Padma Lakshmi, Tom Coliccio of
Gail Simmons, Padma Lakshmi, Tom Coliccio of "Top Chef" (Bravo)

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Turns out, the obvious is true – winning big on a reality television cooking show can catapult the careers of even established chefs. Not so obvious – it also can leave them with more to prove.

Stephanie Izard, for instance, came away from her victory as the only woman ever to win Bravo's "Top Chef" with both the clout to reach for her dreams and a higher bar to get there, feeling as though she suddenly had much more to prove.

"When I got off the show the most important thing to me was get a restaurant open and to show the world I'm a chef and I just wasn't on TV with my nice smile," she said Saturday during a panel discussion (with the Twitter-ready name (hash)winning) with fellow reality show winners at the South Beach Wine and food Festival.

She now is working on opening her second restaurant and getting back into television. She said she has been approached by production companies to film in her restaurant, but she won't let the fame get to her. "I'm not going to yell at my dishwasher just to make a good episode."

For Food Network Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarin, television was a chance to prove what years in the restaurant world apparently had not.

"The biggest response I have gotten since winning Iron Chef is `We never knew you could cook.' And it's all about perception," Zakarin said. "It's really important to temper that perception and realize that what people perceive is important."

That is why Zakarin, who has been a chef for over three decades, said if given the choice between working only on television or only in a restaurant, he would choose TV.

"TV is the gigantic tide that lifts all boats," he said.

The sentiment toward food television hasn't always been so positive among chefs. Panel moderator Bobby Flay said his peers felt he was making a mistake when he first got on TV.

"'I don't want to ruin my brand as a chef,'" Flay recalled other chefs saying. "All those people have now sent in their tapes to the networks because now everybody understands it's OK to be a successful chef, run your business and to also be able to talk to the viewer and really get your name out there. And it's obviously worked out."

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