Geography of Top Chef

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I don’t watch much TV, so you can imagine my dismay that Top Chef, one of the only shows I tune in to on a semi-regular basis, caps off season five tonight with the “reunion special.”

I like Top Chef for a number of reasons, the top two being (1) the creativity of the challenges, matched only by the skill of the chefs, and, of course, (2) the food (Note: Do not watch Top Chef, or any other culinary show, on an empty stomach: grumble)!

Food is rooted in geography from harvest to haute cuisine, as we’ve highlighted frequently on this blog (.e.g , Thirteen for Friday the 13th, Make Like the Pilgrims, Gas Prices and Tomatoes and Bees, Oh My!, Flavor Friday, etc). As I watched the Top Chef Season Finale last week, I couldn’t help but be reminded of this reality. Here’s a geographic look at season five:

Contestants
Hosea Rosenberg traveled cross country from Boulder, Colorado, having spent the recent years of his career working in a seafood restaurant–interesting, as Colorado is one of the most landlocked U.S. states, with at least two states separating it from the ocean in any direction. For his final meal of the season, Hosea went with “flesh” selections reflecting both his culinary experience and his upbringing in the American West: seafood and venison.


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Stefan Richter formed half of season five’s “Team Euro” along with
Italian fourth place finisher Fabio. Born in Finland, Stefan spent most
of his childhood in Germany and pursued his culinary studies there. His
culminating dish was a dessert plate sampler with iconic European
elements including–my favorite–chocolate!

Raised in Nashville, Tennessee, Carla Hall currently owns a catering
business in my hometown of Washington, D.C. When I watched part one of
the season finale at Spike Mendelsohn’s (season four contestant) restaurant
in Capitol Hill, everyone was gunning for her! Carla’s approach to
combining classical French techniques with Southern-inspired “heart and
soul” in her concoctions was perfectly suited to the finale setting in
New Orleans.

Judges
Season five’s new judge, journalist Toby Young, brought the British
stiff upper lip, and, at times, biting criticism, to an international
panel. Food critic Gail Simmons hails from Canada, and Padma Lakshmi,
who has hosted a number of globally-themed food programs including
“Padma’s Passport” and “Planet Food,” gained fame as one of the first
Indian supermodels. Renowned chef and New York City restaurant owner
Tom Colicchio, originally from New Jersey, is the lone American of the
group.

Setting
Fans of Top Chef know that each season is filmed in a different
American city, drawing on the resources and culinary influences of that
particular locale. The Big Apple served as kitchen, grocery store, and
inspiration for much of Top Chef Season Five: “Bright Knives. Big City.”

In episode one, contestants prepared dishes representing several of New
York’s distinct ethnic neighborhoods: Brighton Beach (Russian),
Chinatown, Long Island City (Middle Eastern), Astoria (Greek), Jamaica,
Ozone Park (Latin/Cuban), Little Italy, and Little India.

Then, in episode
eight, the chefs journeyed from the nation’s largest urban center to
Blue Hills Farm in nearby rural western Massachusetts, making use of
the same fresh ingredients served at Blue Hills Restaurant in NYC to
prepare meals for the farm’s employees.

The two-part season finale came with a change in scenery: the finalists
landed in the legendary melting pot of New Orleans just in time for
Mardi Gras.

What did you think about the decision to migrate South for the final
episodes? Would it have been more appropriate to host the finale in New
York?

What other geographic connections can you make to Top Chef Season Five?

Sarah for My Wonderful World
Images courtesy Top Chef, ThistleFarmArts

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