Some were still scribbling answers to the questions on the 25-page application, which asked, among other things, to interpret a dish based on the line "eight maids a-milking" from the Twelve Days of Christmas carol; others stored energy by helping themselves to the dried fruit and cheese spread on the bar; one was a nervous wreck. All were there to audition for Top Chef season ten, hoping to become the next Hosea Rosenberg, the Boulder-based chef who won season five.
Linger was the site of today's Top Chef open casting call, which brought out 35 chefs, most from Colorado, to audition for the Emmy-winning Bravo television show, season ten of which will likely air in the fall, allegedly in Seattle.
"We've had auditions before in Denver, but never a proper casting call, and it was time to see what the city's chefs really had to offer," said Hunter Braun, Top Chef's senior casting producer. "There are a few people who auditioned that I'm really excited about, and while there's no quota, I'd really like to make this trip worthwhile and see a couple of chefs from Colorado on the show."
Chefs, perhaps, like Hunter Pritchett, the exec chef of Luca d'Italia, whose application materials, some containing hand-written diagrams, were neatly -- very neatly -- organized on the bar. "I haven't written this much since my chef and tell interview with Westword," quipped Pritchett, who insisted (as did they all) that he has what it takes to win: "I think I can kill it with it my strapping good looks, stellar personality and god-given talent," he joked, adding that, on a more serious note, "I'm honestly a really good, well-rounded chef who makes really great food, and I love the challenge of being put on the spot and cooking my way out of a challenge," which he'll need to do -- a lot -- if he nabs a golden ticket.
Pritchett's colleague and fellow Mizuna chef, Steven McCary, was there, too. "I told my little sister I'd try out -- she's been asking me to audition for years," he said, right before his name was called and he trotted off to meet face-to-face with Braun. McCary's strategy for victory? "My charming southern charm."
Theo Adley, the executive chef of the Pinyon, in Boulder -- and a chef I strongly encouraged to audition -- revealed his reasons for taking the morning off to have his mind probed. "I'd love to cook in such an immediate, fast, high-pressure, brutal environment -- that's a strength of mine -- and I have a thing for being super-terrified and totally exposed to public scrutiny." But can he win? "Shit, yeah, I can win," he insisted.
Clint Wangsnes, who spearheads the line at Zengo, looked like the model chef. "He's really cute, isn't he?" volunteered another would-be contestant. "He definitely has the good looks to be on Top Chef." But Wangsnes wasn't there to look hot. "This is definitely a way to challenge myself, take myself out of my comfort zone and see where it takes me," he said.
For Dagan Stocks, who had driven to Denver from the Four Seasons in Vail, where he's the chef de partie, it was all about the culmination of his past. "I have a very unique set of experiences," he told me. "I was born on a farm in Central Illinois, and for the first nineteen years of my life, I was a wrestler, and when I got injured, I went to culinary school," said Stocks, adding that he's cooked everywhere from in a garage to on a yacht. "I've cooking everywhere, I'm extremely competitive and committed to proving my art. I'm confident." But when I caught a nervous-looking Stocks walking out of his interview, he had only one thing to say: "Hmmmmmm."
Stephen Rohs, who owns Painted Bench Catering (and, previously, the Painted Bench restaurant, which is now Jonesy's), admitted that while he's been off the restaurant radar for several years, he still has the drive to compete. "I still have a real passion for cooking, and since I'm older -- 45 -- I have a solid foundation when it comes to technique, and that's still what I practice in my catering company," he noted. "I really think I can win Top Chef."
And Braun, who's casting in several other cities, including Los Angeles, said he has high hopes for Colorado's confident chefs. "There's a lot going on in Denver right now with food -- it's definitely a budding new foodie town."
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But the auditions, he stressed, are about much more than simply being a chef with high aspirations and fervor. "It's great if the chefs are passionate -- passion resonates -- but this show is also about integrity, being able to speak about food, taking risks and pushing the envelope and realizing that the kitchen is not a glamorous place," said Braun. "And most important, it's about a high level of talent -- and real chefs who know their shit."
We hope that shit turns to gold for one Colorado cooker.