Sin City never tasted so good. Bravo’s delicious hit “Top Chef” returns Wednesday night from Las Vegas, where 17 cheftestants from Atlanta to San Francisco will vie for the title, and perhaps fame.
“This crew, these are real pros,” says head judge Tom Colicchio, the renowned chef/owner of Craft restaurants. “None of them look like pirates,” referencing the chefs usual bandanna-clad uniforms. “They’re serious. They showed up in black pants and clogs, and they were ready to work.”
Food & Wine magazine editor and judge Gail Simmons agrees. “Every year we try to get stronger chefs and make it better and better, and this year the talent is unbelievable,” she says. “I have to say, I’m eating really well.”
This season’s guest judge’s include kitchen superstars Wolfgang Puck, Todd English, and Daniel Boulud. The action is has fiery and feisty as ever: watch the opening Quickfire Challenge here.
I chatted with three of the new cheftestants; Mattin Noblia, 29, a French transplant who owns San Francisco’s Iluna Basque; Mike Isabella, 34, the executive chef at Washington, D.C.’s Zaytinya; and Ashley Merriman, 32, a no nonsense Culinary Institute graduate who’s the chef at Branzino in Seattle, Wash. Get to know a little about each one of them, and the rest of their competitors, below.
HAILS FROM: Center Sandwich, N.H., currently lives in Seattle, Wash.
CURRENT JOB: Chef at Branzino
MOST MEMORABLE TOP CHEF MOMENT: “Working with the other chefs on the show. The level of competition this year is really, really high. I am so glad that I was on this season.”
FAVORITE DISH TO PREPARE: “I really like to cook octopus and sweetbreads.”
BIGGEST COMPETITION: “Myself.”
Watch Ashley’s introduction video here, where she talks about growing up on Welfare, and washing dishes in a restaurant at age 11.
HAILS FROM: Biarritz, France, currently lives in San Francisco, Calif.
CURRENT JOB: Owner, Iluna Basque
THE BEST PART ABOUT BEING ON TOP CHEF: “I was really happy to compete in Las Vegas. It’s a big city. I go back and forth from San Francisco. There’s a lot of chefs over there, big chefs and French so I was very happy.”
FAVORITE DISH TO PREPARE: “Pig’s feet cooked 5 hours with a French sauce. And hard boiled eggs.”
BIGGEST COMPETITION: “I would say maybe Kevin.”
Watch Mattin’s introduction video, where he talks about being introduced to cooking through his father.
HAILS FROM: North Jersey, currently lives in Washington, D.C.
CURRENT JOB: Executive Chef, Zaytinya
WHY HE GOT INVOLVED IN THE SHOW: “I was tired of not seeing the level that I thought should be there. I wanted to kind of show people what my food is like.”
BIGGEST CHALLENGE IN TOP CHEF: “I thought one of the most scariest thing about the whole thing is when you meet everyone and you see everyone’s accolades and see like James Beard, Rising Star Chefs and this and that and owners. It was just like, okay, well if you want to compete, we’re going to compete.
FAVORITE DISH TO PREPARE: I’m a Greek chef, so I love cooking Octopus and I claim that I have a great one. They say in Greece that you’re not a real chef unless you know how to cook an octopus. Everyone loves it, you know. It is like one of my signatures.
Watch Mike’s introduction video, where he talks about how he works under pressure.