MILFORD, NH – When Christopher Viaud was in his senior year at Londonderry High School, his thoughts turned to what he wanted to do with his life.
He kept coming back to those happy times in the kitchen on Sundays with his mom, going through her aromatic spices (both parents are natives of Haiti) and helping prepare dinner.
Those memories led him to Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I., a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts, to a career in Boston and ultimately opening his own restaurant Greenleaf in Milford. He has a rustic approach to food, refined with classic techniques honed by his three years working at Deuxave, a modern French restaurant in Boston.
A year after opening Greenleaf, he opened Culture, a bakery featuring artisanal breads, sandwiches and pastries. His wife, Emily, is the pastry chef.
Viaud was born in the Boston suburb of Randolph, Mass., and lived there for a time before the family relocated to Londonderry.
Fresh out of culinary school, Viaud was hired at Deuxave. For three years, he worked alongside executive chef and owner Chris Coombs, acclaimed chef Stefanie Bui and “Top Chef” alum Adrienne Mosier that led him to one of the most exciting times in his 28 years.
Viaud is one of 15 contestants – dubbed “cheftestants” – on season 18 “Top Chef: Portland” filmed in Oregon.
It was Mosier who recommended him. Actually, he said, when she returned from her stint on Top Chef Season 16, which was filmed in Kentucky, she referred Viaud for consideration.
“I was opening up Greenleaf at the time so I didn’t have the opportunity for it then but hearing how much of an incredible experience she had this next time around she put me in contact with casting,” he said. It was a long process – casting had to be certain he would be a right fit and that he had what it takes to be in the competition — but then “I came to find out I was selected.”
He had nerves and “anxiousness” going into the competition. He had to settle himself down, knowing he was among some of the best chefs in the nation. He said he just took it all in, learning as he went along on “this journey with this incredible talent beside me.”
Viaud said it was “nerve-wracking” going before the judges but simultaneously motivating knowing they were judging him to help.
Each week the show features a Quickfire Challenge and a main cook. Both are timed, which VIaud said increases the angst the chefs feel. The clock is real, he said, and if given 30 minutes, it is exactly 30 minutes that a chef has to produce a tasty, refined dish, one that ensures an ongoing place in the competition in order to win the Top Chef title and $250,000 cash prize.
Viaud found the competition inspirational, learning through the journey “more of what I wish to become.”
He said it was a great time.
Just having the connections to the other chefs is something I will truly treasure forever,” he said. “I’ve learned so much through the course of it and I will be forever grateful.”
Viaud said he formed “a bond like no other” with the chefs. What was especially great, he said, was bouncing ideas off each other and talking about how the pandemic has affected them.
Viaud said he closed Greenleaf for a month because of the pandemic but is now open on Fridays and Saturdays with a prix fixe menu with reservations required. “Being able to open up the doors again has been a blessing,” he said. “We know the exact number of reservations we have coming in, reducing waste. We’ve adapted. We are making do with what we have and doing what we can.”
Culture, the bakery, is also doing well but is primarily takeout.
His wife Emily oversaw operations while he was competing on Top Chef. When he left, he said his daughter Madeleine was 8 months old. Now 14 months, he said she is extremely active.
Asked if he would compete again on Top Chef, Viaud hesitates. “It’s definitely a trying thing but I had a tremendous time doing it,” he said. “There’s a lot going on in my world with a new baby. I think I need to take a little time to myself, especially until we find what a new normal will be.”
The competition means time away from the restaurants but, Viaud said while competing he had “full faith in my team to carry out my mission.”
The show was filmed in October and September 2020, at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Viaud said contestants were frequently tested to ensure everyone’s safety.
Head judge Tom Colicchio told People magazine the crew of 160 stayed in the same hotel and were allowed only to leave to go to the set. When not on the set, they filmed at a convention center allowing plenty of space for social distancing.
Host Padma Lakshmi and judge Gail Simmons are both back but this year ex-contestants – winners, finalists and fan favorites – serve as rotating judges and diners.
In a trailer for the show, Colicchio says this season “could be one of the best collection of chefs we had in the show in 18 seasons.”
Challenges include feeding hundreds of frontline workers, Pan-African cuisine, a surf-and-turf elimination challenge honoring the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, and crabbing on the Oregon Coast, a tribute to culinary icon James Beard, a Portland native.
Restaurant Wars, a mainstay of the reality series, is back as well.
Top Chef Portland debuts April 1 at 8 p.m. on Bravo.
Season 18 Preview: Fifteen talented new chefs head to Portland for season 18!