Over the course of season 5 on Bravo’s Top Chef, Hosea Rosenberg had several challenges to contend with—and not just the show’s Quickfire and Elimination Challenges, which determine who stays and who leaves on each episode of the breakout-hit reality cooking show. Hosea had to battle his talented fellow contestants on “Team Euro”: fan favorite Fabio Vivani of Italy and Stefan Richter of Finland, who took his intimidating attitude all the way to the finals. He also had to face the consequences of kissing another contestant, Leah Cohen, one night while the television cameras were rolling. But the Boulder, Colorado–based cook had an additional, even more serious issue to deal with: Just before the show began filming last summer, he learned that his father had lung cancer.
“After I told Hosea I had cancer, I asked him to drive me to a radiation treatment in Colorado Springs,” says Hosea’s father, Ed Rosenberg. “Then he got confirmation that he would be on the show. He said that if I needed him, he would stay. I said, ‘Go!’ ”
Hosea loves repeating his father’s credo: “Be sure what you do makes you smile.” While Hosea was growing up in Taos, New Mexico, Ed held several jobs, including stints as a carpenter and a bread baker. He has been happiest as a folk musician, though: He’s played with a local group, the Crestone Mountain String Band, for as long as Hosea can remember.
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Hosea was brought up in an environment that reflected his father’s bohemian philosophy—in a house in the mountains with a big garden and plenty of goats. As a kid, Hosea ate a lot of goat yogurt, goat cheese and goat milk. “I didn’t even taste cow’s milk until I was seven, when my parents got divorced and I moved away from the house with the goats,” Hosea says. By the time he got to college, however, his focus had become decidedly non-hippie: At the University of Colorado at Boulder, Hosea studied physics and engineering, the hardest subjects he could find. “I was a nerd and good at math,” says Hosea. “I like challenging myself. That’s the exact reason why I knew I’d win Top Chef. I’m very competitive.”
While he was in college, Hosea took jobs cooking at nondescript restaurants to make money. But he didn’t decide to become a professional chef until he spent a year after graduation traveling around the country with a friend. “I realized that the only time I would get fired up was when I was talking about food,” says Hosea.
He returned to Denver in 1998 and got a job at the just-opening Wolfgang Puck Café, where he learned to cook on a line. By 2001, Hosea was in Boulder, where he had become head chef at Dandelion. It was there that he perfected a dish that’s now one of his father’s favorites: lightly seared tuna steaks with a ginger-infused cream sauce spiced with the vibrant red Thai chile sauce Sriracha. “I like barely cooked fish,” says Ed. “And Hosea’s flavors are excellent. That tuna is a real treat for me.” In 2004, Hosea moved to his current job: chef at Jax Fish House, a popular Boulder seafood spot.
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Hosea’s engineering training has proven invaluable when it comes to cooking in Jax’s very small kitchen. He draws detailed sketches of every dish he creates, which helps him decide whether it’s feasible to prepare in the cramped space. Sketching also came in handy on Top Chef, to a certain extent. Asked whether he drew diagrams of the food he made during the show, Hosea laughs. “There was no time! Top Chef is all about survival. At best, I sketched a third of my dishes. Once the clock starts, you’re racing around the kitchen; you’re not drawing pictures.”
Hosea came into Top Chef with an impressive number of awards from local Colorado cooking competitions (he won nine of the 10 he entered). His cooking for those contests was ambitious, but on Top Chef, he learned to focus on uncomplicated food with a few well-chosen garnishes. He won the finale in New Orleans by preparing relatively simple dishes, like corn cakes with blackened redfish and Creole remoulade. Among other important wins, Hosea counts the Palate Challenge, in which contestants had to name ingredients in a series of sauces. Hosea eventually beat Stefan by correctly identifying the seventh component in the mole. “Stefan is a big cigarette smoker, and he kept trying to convince me that smoking stimulates your palate. I’d say, ‘Are you kidding me, dude?’ So that was an extra-nice win—I felt like I proved something.”
© Quentin Bacon
Hosea is still deciding what to do with his $100,000 Top Chef winnings. “My first thought was to open a restaurant. My dream place would be a small spot in Central America, with fish from local fishermen, tropical fruit from local farmers and lots of surfing for me. But no one has offered to give me a building on the beach.” (Is Leah part of that plan? Sure, if she’d consider relocating to Central America, he says.) Besides, Hosea is busy working on projects like a Whole Foods “Go Local” campaign, which features big posters of him promoting Boulder County ingredients. (Also, he hasn’t received his winning check yet.)
Still, he has come away from the show with at least one very important thing: His father can now brag that his son won Top Chef. Hosea gave his Top Chef baseball cap to his father, who started wearing it to his radiation treatments. “Nurses and doctors would see it and tell us, ‘Oh, we love that show,’ ” says Hosea’s stepmother, Robin Rosenberg. “And Ed would tell them, ‘Well, I’m Hosea’s dad.’ People would come running out of rooms to meet us, they were so excited.”
“It gave us all something fun to talk about,” adds Ed. “It’s better than talking about being sick.”