Geiger's Culture Counter: Colorado comes out on 'Top Chef'
I love cooking shows. I love Colorado. So when I heard that Colorado was going to be the location of season 15 of “Top Chef” I was extremely excited and intrigued.
Aside from “South Park,” The Stanley Hotel and iconic mountains like Pikes Peak, Wilson Peak and the Maroon Bells, Colorado rarely makes it to the large or small screens. Media is understandably focused on the coasts since the industry is based out of Los Angeles and New York. “Top Chef” has only filmed at more central locations four times before with seasons in Chicago, Las Vegas, Texas and New Orleans. This is a comforting breath of fresh alpine air.
Not only did the show film in the Centennial State, but a pair of local chefs competed in the pool of 15 contestants. Carrie Baird of Denver’s Bar Dough and Brother Luck of Colorado Springs’ Four by Brother Luck brought their knives to show off their skills. Though I haven’t eaten at their restaurants, it’s nice to have someone on the home team to root for. Interestingly it hasn't given them an advantage over the others when it comes to cooking at altitude, save for one sick contestant. Chances are they arrived with ample time to acclimate and get accustomed to the different boiling points.
The premiere took the chefs to Denver’s Larimer Square, the hotbed of Colorado’s culinary world, to serve a block party. Having dined at Rioja, Bistro Vendome and Osteria Marco, I knew it was the perfect way to introduce the state to viewers.
Episode two had the acclaimed Troy Guard, who has eight restaurants in 11 locations across Colorado, as a guest judge for one part before chefs were whisked to Alex Seidel’s Fruition Farms in Larkspur and then they served a meal at Seidel’s Mercantile in Union Station. The James Beard Awarding winning Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson—who once competed on “Top Chef Masters”—of Boulder’s nationally renowned Frasca Food and Wine judged how well they could make a Denver omelet in episode three. The fourth installment featured familiar last names as the children of Mackinnon-Patterson and Seidel joined the daughter of Sage Restaurant Group’s Peter Karpinski to taste elevated kid’s menus.
Recently the chefs went on a road trip to make a locally sourced meal over a campfire at a snow-covered Estes Park. The following day Keegan Gerhard of D Bar introduced the cast to German food at Rhein Haus before tasking them with serving their own versions at an Elitch Gardens beer garden. Each new challenge adds another restaurant I’m eager to make a reservation at.
Looking at the episode description for “Olympic Dreams,” tomorrow’s hour features a trio of winter athlete judges. Afterwards one can only guess but I do know there’s a planned field trip to Telluride and rumors of a possible marijuana-based meal.
I have never seen the show before this season and I wasn’t sure what to expect. For those that also neglected to tune in, it’s the rather standard cooking competition fare with immunity and elimination challenges but it includes a shared house for the chefs’ downtime. Additionally, the overall winner is featured at Aspen’s annual Food & Wine festival. It takes time to highlight local establishments, like cheese making at the aforementioned Fruition Farms, as well. In another episode there’s a segment on the Denver-based food incubator Comal that helps immigrants turn their cooking into a career. I love how it educates residents on what hidden gems their home has to offer and non-natives that Colorado has a place in the food world.
I’m glad it showcases the diverse Colorado cuisine instead of steak and potatoes. Unfortunately, some portions of the season so far have been under baked.
For starters, all shopping for meals is done at Whole Foods. I get that it’s a sponsor but it would be nice if they went to local grocery stores instead. However, they at least promote local proteins like lamb and trout.
While New Orleans chef John Besh was edited out of an episode after sexual harassment and assault allegations, Bravo didn’t have the foresight to handle another problematic cameo. Youtuber Logan Paul was a guest judge during a food truck challenge serving college kids in Boulder. If that name sounds familiar it’s because he found himself in hot water after videoing the corpse of a Japanese man who committed suicide. The episode aired before Paul’s scandal but since I was catching up on missed episodes after the incident, it left a sour taste in my mouth.
Nevertheless, the final product overcomes its setbacks. Every Coloradoan should tune in to see what the rest of the season cooks up.