Top Chef’s Josie Smith-Malave

Josie Smith-MalaveEven if you hate reality TV, you probably won’t hate Top Chef, last year’s breakout hit from Bravo, which returns for its second season on Oct. 18. It’s smart, serious and wildly entertaining.

Spicing things up will be out lesbian contestant Josie Smith-Malave, 31, a former women’s professional football player who is now a chef. Colorful, outspoken and pretty much the poster child for joie de vivre, Smith-Malave is nonetheless serious about food.

“I have been in the restaurant industry half my life, since I was 15,” she tells us. “I started out summering with friends, catering, then moved to the front of the house, waiting, bartending — I’ve done it all. … My passion was always food, so when I was ready to do something seriously, it was food.”

Smith-Malave, who was born in Miami but currently makes her home in Brooklyn, attended culinary school in New York. After graduating, she worked with a number of real-life top chefs, including Wylie Dufresne of New York’s red-hot WD-50, then became a sous chef at Brooklyn’s Marlow and Sons.

But Smith-Malave was serious about more than food — she was serious about women’s professional football, too. A former member of the New York Sharks, football was a lifelong dream.

“I was in a bar,” she recalls with a laugh. “I overheard two girls talking about trying out, and it was somewhere way out in New Jersey. I was all, ‘I’ve always wanted to play football, my whole life.’ I went to the grueling tryouts — and ‘grueling’ was the word. Playing football was one of the best experiences of my whole life.”

Unfortunately, her career was derailed by an injury. “I was involved in a car accident that herniated a disk in my neck,” she says. “It was full-body-contact tackle football, so I wasn’t able to play after that. So I took all that energy and transferred it to being a chef.”

So, what does an outgoing, overachieving chef do after finishing culinary school and working with some of New York City’s top chefs? Allows her girlfriend convince her to go on a reality TV show, of course.

“I have to give the credit to my girlfriend for signing me up for the reality television website,” Smith-Malave says. “She said, ‘Babe, you gotta do this.’ One day I was checking my email and it said Top Chef was accepting applications. So I did it, because first and foremost, I’m a chef.”

Smith-Malave’s partner, Caitlin, may be responsible for getting her on Top Chef, but she isn’t the beneficiary of a lot of home cooking. “My family is Caitlin, two dogs and my cat. I’m in the kitchen for hours every day, and I’m usually not home for dinner. On my days off, I like to eat out on one of them and keep abreast of new trends, see what people are liking to eat. I’m a bit of a critic, actually.” She adds, laughing, “We’re Mikey. We’ll eat anything.”

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