They came from as far away as Texas and Utah, but the bulk of the hopefuls were from the Mile High City and the mountains. Denver, which joined New York City, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, and San Francisco, was the wild card for open calls. "Denver is really becoming a foodie city, and we've had previous chefs [Season Five winner Hosea Rosenberg and Season Seven finalist Kelly Liken] who have done well from here," says Braun. "I've been pushing to come to Denver for a while."
Which is why I was disappointed so few folks lined up. Denver has deep kitchen talent, and I'm always one for showcasing what we've got. That said, it was an impressive roundup of cooks who did turn out. In addition to a roster of Frank Bonanno-trained chefs (from Luca d'Italia's Hunter Pritchett to Marty Steinke, who is currently on the line at Linger), sous chef Matt Vawter from Fruition was there because he loves competition. This sixth-generation Coloradan's biggest worry? He doesn't fit the mold of a typical Top Chef character. "I'm all business, I'm not about gimmicks—I just cook."
When I asked Josh Hall, the executive chef at Le Petit Paris in Breckenridge, how he feels about dessert (a task that often sends a chef-testant home), he says he's comfortable with a couple sweets but "it's the one you want to avoid. You don't want to go out on a dessert."
Chef Kurt Boucher (a one-time competitor on Iron Chef and formerly of Satchel's on Sixth and the Butcher's Table in Salida) says his high-end homestyle cooking most parallels that of Kevin Gillespie, a Season Six finalist. And, with a local restaurant in the works—he wouldn't divulge details just yet—he says he's trying out for many reasons, not the least of which is the winnings. "I'm here for the money—I'm opening a restaurant."
Given how male-dominated the cooking field is, I wasn't surprised to find that most of those who showed up were men. But I did chat with Jenica Flippo from Aria. She describes her cooking as foundational but innovative–and she cited the example of taking something traditional like risotto but making it with sushi rice. Overall, she said, she's excited about the Top Chef opportunity because it will be a challenge and "it's a chance to learn."
Rumor Mill: Though we won't know for months whether a Colorado chef (or chefs) lands on the show, Braun did hint that there might a local presence on Around the World in 80 Plates, a new Bravo show that airs in May. Consider it a mash-up of Top Chef and the Amazing Race—and it's hosted by super chefs Cat Cora and Curtis Stone.