‘Top Chef’ gets renewed, brings search for next cheftestants to Dallas

Top ChefLast night on part 1 of the 11th season finale of Top Chef, cutie Louis and workhorse Shirley got booted during the elimination round on Maui, leaving temperamental Nicholas and deserving Nina in the final showdown, which will air next Wednesday. But the bigger Top Chef news in the last 24 hours is this: Not only has Bravo renewed the show for a 12th season, but it will kick off its search for kitchen talent in Dallas — and pretty soon.

On Feb. 18 from 10 am. to 1 p.m., producers will be holding a casting call at the Hotel Palomar before moving on to Atlanta, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. (No word on whether bearish host Tom Colicchio, pictured, will be in attendance, but fingers are crossed.) It’s a slightly ironic choice of location, as the menu at Central 214, the restaurant at the Palomar, is being reimagined by former Top Chef contestant John Tesar. Actually, Dallas has been the hometown to a lot of alums, including Tiffany Derry, Tre Wilcox and Casey Thompson.

Anyone wanting to sign up for the competition can download an application here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Maui on the mind

South Maui

South Maui

I’ve had Maui on my mind lately.

It’s not a surprise — I went there (during the height of icepocalypse, no less!) for a story. That story runs in tomorrow’s edition of Dallas Voice.

What’s surprising, though, is that I’m not the only one obsessed with Maui. The finale of the current season of Top Chef, which runs in two parts starting next Wednesday, moves from New Orleans to Maui (it had its finale two seasons ago there, too). And tonight, another Bravo show, the personal trainer romp Toned Up goes to Maui.

I doubt these TV shows went there specifically because of the state’s support for marriage equality — one reason I did. But if I were to guess why people keep heading there? Well, check on the photos below for a clue. And check out our Hawaii coverage Friday!

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Tasting Notes: Dallas ‘Top Chef’ alums pair food with booze

Top Chef - Season 10

The Grape on Greenville Avenue is teaming up with Dallas’ Four Corners Brewing Co. for, not a wine dinner, but a beer dinner on Tuesday, Aug. 9. The Grape’s chef de cuisine — former Top Chef candidate Danyele McPherson — will devise a menu to showcase several craft brews. The cost of the four-course meal is $55 and includes, of course, the beer. Reservations are required  at TheGrapeRestaurant.com or calling 214-828-1981.

Then on Wednesday, McPherson’s fellow Top Chef alum John Tesar at Spoon hosts his own take on a wine dinner, with one dedicated to bubbly. The champagne dinner — with wines from Ruinart — will feature five courses (including dessert) on April 10, starting at 6 p.m. The cost is $125, and reservations at 214-368-8220 are recommended.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Tesar out on ‘Top Chef’

Last week, Danyele McPherson — formerly with Stephan Pyles and sous chef at The Grape — was booted from Top Chef, largely for lacking confidence in her dishes.  Confidence wasn’t a problem for fellow Dallas chef John Tesar, above right, who was considered arrogant by his competitors on the hit reality cooking show.

Last night, Dallas lost its chance at another finalist (as Private|Social’s Tiffany Derry and Fort Worth’s Casey Thompson were) when Tesar was told to pack his knives and go following a disastrous risotto.  Tesar was given a second chance with a face-off against Lizzie, where each had to make a burger; Tesar’s lamb was deemed less worthy than her chicken. (I ate at Tesar’s old Commissary, and complaints about service aside, one thing the man knows how to make is a burger.)

Tesar was even given a third shot on the online-only Last Chance Kitchen, where ousted chefs compete against each other for a wild-card spot, but Tesar came up short there, too, against even more arrogant C.J.; Tom Colicchio, above left, judged Tesar’s foie gras too salty.

(There is one way he might be saved: Tweet #savechefjohn and he might become a fan fave.)

Don’t feel too badly for Tesar, though. His new Preston Center restaurant Spoon is worth a taste (read my review later this month), and as he told me recently, “say what you want to about me, but I work hard.” That’s obviously true.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Tasting notes: Campo’s new chef, Derry’s “Top Chef” dinners, Good 2 Go couple in Uptown

Last month, I reviewed Campo, just as the restaurant was swapping out executive chefs. The new exec chef, Michael Ehlert, has taken over and tweaked the menu.  Yes, the chorizo fritters are still there, and the ravioli is now stuffed with lamb instead of duck, but a lot looks new, including a duo of beef, pan-roasted chicken and a tomato-leek compote, pictured.  (Hmmmm … maybe I should go back.)

Tiffany Derry, the fan-favorite Dallas-based Top Chef All-Star who opened her own resto, Private | Social, in Uptown last fall, is teaming up again with some of her Top Chef compadres. Each month this summer, Derry will team with a fellow cheftestant for a 4- to 5-course meal. The celebrity series starts June 19 with Kevin Sbraga, then Angelo Sosa cooks on July 10 and Carla Hall comes by for two nights, Aug. 9 and 10. The cost is $125 per person. RSVP at 214-0754-4744.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

REVIEW: ‘Around the World in 80 Plates’

The Bravo channel should really consider changing its name to the Watch What Real Top Chefs Are Making Over Now channel: They’ve hit a rut. If we’re not watching housewives spit bile at one another, we’re watching cooks talk about raspberry foam and justifying why their cheese doodle casserole was not the worst.

But if you have to be in a rut, at least be in a good one, to wit: Well-produced reality shows that, if they have come to feel about the same at least look polished and entertain.

The tweak of Around the World in 80 Plates, which debuts tonight, is that it combines The Amazing Race with Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations with Top Chef with its “secret ingredient” — hunky Aussie host Curtis Stone, who I’d watch if he was just sitting across from me eating soup. In fact, I’d prefer it.

The concept is pretty simple: Take a dozen or so up-and-coming chefs, give them passports and fly them around the globe where they eat local cuisine (in the debut episode, airing tonight at 9 p.m., it’s England with its steak and kidney pie and black pudding) and then have to recreate the dishes. They are divided in teams, and there’s an advantage to winning the food-eating portion … then again, go too fast and you might not soak up the techniques and flavors that you have to reproduce for the natives, who judge the winning team. You can pretty much guess what happens then.

80 Plates has the look and feel of the on-the-road episodes of Top Chef with pacing of Race, but as with all reality shows, it rises (or falls) on the personalities of its contestants. In the debut, I didn’t form too many strong attachments (likes or dislikes) to them, though I tended to root most for Gary, the gay priviate chef, pictured, and the Texan, a Thai cook from San Antonio. The trick is getting audiences to tune in for a second helping.

I’ll do it. It’s in the Top Chef time slot, and it satisfies a craving … even if that is just a sweet tooth for that eye candy Curtis Stone. Hey, there are worse things I could gorge on.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Michelle Obama joins “Top Chef” alums in Dallas

For the second year in a row, First Lady Michelle Obama takes her “Let’s Move” initiative to the streets, and this time, it’s coming to Texas — along with some Top Chefs.

Top Chef: Texas is currently running on Bravo, which helps explains Big D for the location of the national tour stopping here on Friday. The aim of the program is to teach kids how to make healthy food choices.

Among the celebrichefs in attendance at DISD schools this Friday will be Tom Colicchio, all-stars winner Richard Blais, dreamboat Fabio Viviani and Jen Carroll.

Dallas ISD is actually a leader in healthy food options for its students, boasting the most “gold” schools of any district in the nation for the Healthier US School Challenge program.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

ChefTEXANs

“Top Chef’ comes (finally) to Texas … but you’ll have to wait to see Big D

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REMEMBER THE A AL MODE | Simmons, Lakshmi and Colicchio feed a mega-sized ‘Top Chef: Texas.’

ARNOLD WAYNE JONES  | Life+Style Editor
jones@dallasvoice.com

It’s been apparent to devoted viewers of Top Chef over the years that Texans know how to cook — especially those from Dallas. Right now, former all-stars Tiffany Derry, Tre Wilcox and Casey Thompson all have busy restaurants across the Metroplex, and other Lone Star competitors have made a mark. So it was with a collective “It’s about time!” when we learned Season 9 would be set in Texas.

But aside from being in Texas, there are few chefs from Texas in Top Chef: Texas, premiering Nov. 2. That means just as much attitude, but fewer bragging rights.

Well, almost.

“It’s Texas; they made it bigger,” one of the cheftestants says, amazed when 29 competitors arrive at The Alamo in episode 1. Of course, just because it starts off big doesn’t mean it will stay that way; in the Texas-sized two-part premiere, 14 chefs get eliminated on the way to a lean 15 cooks.

That’s a lot of personalities to juggle in a short time, and with so many chefs, you get few pings with the gaydar to pick out family, but the (few) gays stand out. Janine, despite her early pronoun-neutral coyness, is a fun chef with a good story, while Ty-Lor’s otterish prissiness gives a dash of fabulousness to the proceeding.

The first chef to make an impression, though, is Tyler, who stakes a claim as an early asshole; fortunately, we don’t need to spend much time with him. Some of the others show promise, but do they withstand the buds of Tom Colicchio, Padme Lakshmi, Gail Simmons and new judges Emeril Lagasse and Hugh Atcheson (neither of whom added much to the premiere)? Well, that’s the fun.

If you already like the show, the Texas setting is a plus, and if you don’t … well, shots of the Riverwalk probably won’t change your mind, or make you wanna see it anymore than the slew of other Texas-set reality series littering the airwaves. But it just might.

In addition to Ty-Lor, Chuy Valencia was on my radar as a talented cutie to watch, but for now, we’re confined to the kitchens of San Antonio. The show hits Austin, too, before ending the season in Dallas, so if you’re looking for local landmarks, you’ll have to wait ‘til after Thanksgiving.
Seems like a good idea. We’ll be thinking more about food by then.

Premieres Wednesday on Bravo at 9 p.m.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 28, 2011.

—  Kevin Thomas

REVIEW: ‘Work of Art’ season 2

“Happy families are all alike,” Tolstoy began Anna Karenina; “Every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

I think that sort of applies to the current slate of reality competition shows. Pretty much they all follow the same format: An “initial challenge” (reward on Survivor; quickfire on Top Chef, etc.) that typically comes with a built-in advantage; an elimination challenge (the heart of the competition), usually on a ridiculously tight schedule; judges sniping about why this gown made in 45 minutes completely out of trash bags is not runway-ready; then a panel where the winner is selected and the bottom three are singled out; interviews are sprinkled throughout with the contestants pointing out each others’ flaws.

The only thing missing from that description is the actual talent involved. That’s where Tolstoy comes in.

There are competition shows about hair-cutting, cooking, fashion designing, dancing, singing, extreme traveling and wilderness abilities; but none are more peculiar for a contest than making art. (Maybe writing a novel; the problem is, it would take years to film.)

It’s almost a boondoggle if you think about it: People’s taste may be subjective, but at least on Project Runway you’re weighing dress against dress; on Work of Art, starting its second season tonight, you might be comparing photos with sculpture with graffiti with performance art and painting. On Top Chef, contestants may literally be comparing apples and oranges, but here, it’s watermelons and race cars.  If there is a more esoteric enterprise, I can’t imagine it.

Which is not to say Work of Art is a meaningless exercise, although even more than Nina Garcia, the taste levels of the judges are at least as puzzling as the execution of the contestants. When China Chow drones on that one artist’s style recalls Keith Haring, she acts as if there could be no greater insult to a gallerist than reminding someone of someone else. Since when did Michael Kors design a dress that didn’t have some predecessor in history?

The highfalutin nature of the show means that it really fits in the Bravo stated profile better than, say, any of the Real Housewives franchises (remember when Bravo had opera?). It challenges you a little to consider what art is, and how creativity is funneled in different ways. It’s a show meant for a sophisticated urban audience. (Sarah Jessica Parker is one of the producers, as if it could have been called Art and the City.) There’s a slightly self-congratulatory aspect to it, as if you feel more cultured in evaluating artists without the bother of going to an actual museum.

So how “unhappy” is this show? Artists are temperamental folks, and pretty arrogant, but part of the fun is seeing how their egos are shaped by the others’ around them; and even some of them allow their libidos to influence their styles and their affections for other contestant.

Work of Art is no better or worse than most competition series, but I do enjoy the creative process being given equal time to all the bad behavior on TV. If that’s patting myself on the back, so be it.

Premieres tonight on Bravo at 9 p.m.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

PHOTOS: Red carpet gala of Private | Social

I have a story this week about Top Chef Tiffany Derry, but you can also see photos by Kristina Bowman (and myself) here of the opening night, which included a host of other Top Chef contestants, including the delightly gay chef Arnold Myint and some stars from Most Eligible Dallas. A review of the resto will come next month.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones