The Surprising Way Brian Malarkey Ended Up On Top Chef - Exclusive

Brian Malarkey was coming off of a flopped "The Next Food Network Star" audition. He had flown back to California from New York after failing to impress Bobby Flay (who Malarkey called "my James Beard at the time") when a chain of events started that would land him a spot on "Top Chef."

You've since seen Malarkey on just about every single U.S.-based cooking competition imaginable. But he'd pretty much given up — as he described to Mashed in an exclusive interview — on his dream of becoming a TV chef. The celebrity chef was working at the Oceanaire at the time and had committed to a Liver Foundation Dinner at the Omni hotel. "It was like 20 of the best chefs in San Diego," Malarkey recounted. He was responsible for a 10-top table and had to come up with a menu for it, set up a "sub kitchen" outside of the hotel for it, had to cook all of the courses, hire his own servers for the event, and decorate.

To call Brian Malarkey competitive is a bit like calling the Hulk well-built. Observe: "Right before I'd gone to New York, the chef from the Omni said, 'Malarkey, what are you cooking for your table? And was like, 'I don't know. Something good.' And he goes, 'We're going to kick your a**.' And I was like, 'What did you say?' He said, 'We're going to kick your a**.' And I was like, 'It's a competition?' I was like, 'Ho, ho, ho.'"

Brian Malarkey's outrageous Omni set-up

Spoiler alert: This story involves bribes and bouncers. Brian Malarkey gave another chef caviar. In return, that chef gave him his table: "an outside the rib table," Malarkey told Mashed, "so that I was on the far edge of all the tables in this big ballroom." Years later, The San Diego Union-Tribune would describe Malarkey's table as "unforgettable." "I came up with this whole idea," Malarkey described. "It was kind of like lions and witches and dragons."

The setup included a gigantic, flowering, enchanted tree sprouting from his table with lanterns. His servers were dressed as Marie Antoinette and a court gesture. "And I had this giant [prop] I'd borrowed from a local theater company that was a lion's head. And I came out with that, 'Roar,'" Malarkey remembered. He'd also hired two scarf-waving, dancing fire breathers. "And the whole room was looking at us going 'Oh my God. I want to be at that table.' You had chalices and goblets. And we were laughing and having so much fun," Malarkey remembered.

But it wasn't elaborate Hollywood-esque scenery that landed him a spot on "Top-Chef." It was a series of fortunate events that started with baked Alaska and ended with bouncers and a loading dock.

Why Brian Malarkey made the local news

The Oceanaire, where Malarkey worked at the time, was famous for their baked Alaska. "I'd been to Home Depot a few days earlier," Malarkey said. "I had gotten one of those big orange street cones ... stuffed it full of ice cream, refroze it, cut it off, arranged that whole thing. .. I had about a two and a half foot tall Baked Alaska." He planned to light it on fire at the table.

Then came the chef from the Omni again. "That chef came up to me, and he goes, 'Malarkey. I heard you have fire breathers here. If you light anything on fire in my ballroom, I will throw you out,'" Malarkey explained. Had Malarkey listened, he might never have gotten a spot on "Top Chef." "I was like, 'Well, you only live once,'" Malarkey remembered. So the fire-breathing scarf dancers dipped their elongated fingernails into the burning liquid and set the dessert on fire. "I had people hidden with their water buckets in case anything went wrong," Malarkey qualified. "And we went out there, and we lit everything in a fire. The girls' pants went on fire, I was like pouring fire over this baked Alaska."

Security, says Malarkey, "literally like in the movies grabbed me, took me out, and the whole room was screaming and cheering." When "Top Chef" called, they'd read the local paper. "Are you the guy who lit the ballroom on fire?" Malarkey says they asked. And that's how he got cast without an audition.

Follow Brian Malarkey on Instagram for more of his adventures, the latest of which is a new line of oils, Chefs Life, which you can check out on its own website.