Top Chef Tour Puts You in the Kitchen
Thursday, July 10, 2008 | posted by Mike
The skies weren't particularly encouraging last Saturday as I headed down to Penn's Landing, the strip of riverfront recreational areas that played host to the Top Chef tour that was in town as part of the Welcome America festivities in Philadelphia. But we managed to dodge the rain for the most part and it was well worth the chance to get a front-row seat (literally, for me) to a live cooking demonstration and question-and-answer session with TC contestant Spike Mendelsohn.
I wasn't sure exactly what to expect from the Tour. I knew that I had tickets and that the number was fairly limited, but it could have been "limited" to 500 for all I knew. When we got there and saw that it was taking place in the distinctly-decorated trailer seen below, it was clear that the seats were going to be limited and that we were going to be right on top of the action. They lined up the ticketholders and let us in. My group was the second to be called, so I snagged a seat in a folding chair that was close enough to have me dodging grease spatter while Spike did his thing.
Spike got up and did his intro, followed by starting off the dish that he was going to be preparing, which was a Greek-style sautéed eggplant with a tomato sauce. Really, though, the cooking was secondary to the discussion of his time on the show and the other questions he fielded from the audience. Despite his on-show persona which may have left viewers feeling like he was a bit arrogant, Spike provided an insightful, honest and interesting series of answers. He was extremely articulate and even self-effacing in discussing his ultimate downfall on the show, the use of frozen scallops. In fact, he referenced the mis-step a couple of times during the talk and it because a bit of a catchphrase by the end..."those frozen scallops" elicited laughs from the crowd whenever it was mentioned.
As he continued his dish, Spike encouraged the crowd to ask more questions. They hit on a variety of topics, most of which were about the experience of taping the show and how much of it was accurately portrayed on the screen. He said that the producers did a good job of keeping the pressure up on the contestants and that the show depicted that in the finished version. I was able to ask a couple of questions, including one that I've always wondered while watching the program.
From time to time, they like to include shots of the contestants back at the house, usually doing the kind of mundane things we all do...brushing teeth, working out and cooking. I've always had the feeling that there was probably something pretty interesting going on with those meals. I mean, you can't put a bunch of competitive chefs in a house together without some sort of one-upsmanship going on, can you?
Spike replied that it was true, the chefs did use the opportunity to try and break out the old family recipes in order to impress (and intimidate?) one another. But not Spike. He said the he sat back, relaxed and didn't lift a finger in the kitchen, instead enjoying some of the most consistently excellent meals of his life without having to fire up the stove. It had me thinking that I may want to volunteer as a handyman at next season's contestant house...just so I can snag the leftovers.
Spike finished by talking about his future plans, which include a new burger restaurant in DC and the possibility of hosting some food shows in the vein of Anthony Bourdain's work. He posed for photos, signed some autographs and spent time talking with fans.
This kinds of access isn't something you see every day, so if you can manage to finagle some tickets when it swings by your city, be sure to do it.
Check out the photos below for a few more shots of the action.
Labels: Top Chef