By Karin Vandraiss
Bravo’s hit series, “Top Chef,” wastes no time lining up new talent. On Wednesday LA chef Mei Lin won the title honors for Season 12, but the show has already started its annual, nation-wide scouting trip to cast the upcoming season. Chicago’s live casting call was earlier this week, but even if you missed it, there’s still time to apply.
Chicago hasn’t hosted the show since 2008, but local restaurants have been well-represented over the years. Several chefs have made it to the final rounds, and in Season 4 Stephanie Izzard of Girl & the Goat became the first female winner of the show.
Top Chef Casting Producer Marjorie Lewis said that competing chefs have more than just culinary chops. “We look for good chefs with big personalities and strong competitive spirit.”
She has been looking forward to their Chicago stop. “Chicago has a wonderful food scene, with so much young, vibrant talent.”
Producers find contenders in various ways, ranging from privately contacting chefs to open casting calls and mailed-in applications. “We do our research, but we don’t always hear about everyone,” she said, “But if you’re a great chef and you have a great resume you will get the same consideration as someone I meet in person. Star quality is star quality.”
Chicago’s casting call was held at Trencherman, 2039 W. North Ave. It’s host was Executive Sous Chef Rebecca LaMalfa, the lone Chicago chef to appear in Season 12, which was filmed in Boston. LaMalfa agreed that personality is as vital as culinary skill for chefs hoping to make the cut.
“There are people out there who are terribly boring, and nobody really wants to see someone on television who doesn’t talk,” she said, “When push comes to shove, it’s still a reality television show.”
But a fierce competitive streak doesn’t hurt. “Everybody there is competitive as all get out,” said LaMalfa. “Some people can hide it pretty well, but you’re not on that show if you’re not competitive.”
There’s still time to throw your chef’s hat in the ring. The deadline for sending completed application forms and videos to the show by mail is 11:50 p.m. EST Monday, Feb. 20. For more details, visit the Top Chef website. Once casting is complete, Top Chef will announce Season 13’s host city.