"Every season the bar gets higher, every season it means more to be the one on top -- do you have what it takes to be the next TOP CHEF?" So begins the wording on the Bravo website, taunting cookers from around the country to audition for the tenth season of Top Chef, which, if you believe the rumors, will take place in Seattle. But Denver is one of several major metropolitan cities that can get you there...if you show up to the casting call at Linger on Wednesday, February 22, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. "Bravo was looking for a big, visually impressive space to hold casting calls, and obviously, Linger is perfect," says Aubrey Cornelius, who does PR for the restaurant.
Colorado has already produced one Top Chef victor: Former Jax-Boulder exec chef Hosea Rosenberg took the prize on season five. Kelly Liken, whose eponymous restaurant resides in Vail, nearly made it all the way on season seven, and Melissa Harrison, who was once a sous chef at Boulder's Centro Latin Kitchen and Refreshment Palace, also appeared on Season Five with Rosenberg.
Cornelius insists that Justin Cucci, the executive chef of Linger (and Root Down) isn't auditioning for a cheftestant spot, but it got us thinking about whose knives we'd most like to see fly in the face of Tom Colicchio. Herewith our top picks:
Rodriguez, a self-described "bitch" -- and a clear fan favorite, judging from the comments on her Chef and Tell interview -- grew up on a farm in Chihuahua, Mexico, so she knows what it's like to be surrounded by pigs (and there are plenty of the pretentious human sort on Top Chef). And she knows how to butcher them, too -- literally and figuratively. She's full of fire and has a personality that's larger than life; she can stand the heat; she's quick, precise and doesn't collapse under pressure; and, most important, this is a woman who can cook as well as anyone I've seen in this city. The girl just gets it -- and gets it right.
"He's confident, brilliantly innovative and, at 26, one of the city's youngest kitchen kingpins to pioneer a line that turns out what may very well be the most ambitiously crafted menu in Denver." That's what I wrote about Jorel Pierce, the fiercely talented chef at Euclid Hall, in early 2011, and aside from his age, nothing has changed. He's a reference bible of bottomless food knowledge; he's intensely focused and competitive; his dishes often go way, way beyond the realm of sensibility but knock your britches off in the end (who else does Thai-style pig ears?); and God only knows what he'd come up with in a sausage duel.
There's a reason -- several, actually -- that we honored Max MacKissock, exec chef of the Squeaky Bean, with our Best of Denver Best Chef award last year. No one -- no one -- pushes the culinary barriers like he does. He's the guy who chooses a half-dozen ingredients from the pantry, none of which you'd think would land on the same counter, much less the same plate (or, when you're MacKissock, a singular dish), but somehow, some way, he not only makes it work -- he makes magic. He'd kill it on Top Chef, running circles around the egotistical blowhards who suddenly panic at the mere presence of castoreum.
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Anyone who gathers onions from a ditch, ditches chef coats for T-shirts in his kitchen, makes killer fried chicken and has a secret desire to grace his menu with a dish of escargot sautéed with oyster crabs, roasted corn mutt, fiddleheads and butter whey should be a Top Chef contender. Adley is also hilarious, and considering the grave dispositions of some of the Top Chef judges, he'd add a much-needed irreverence to the show. Plus, he had the balls to make this declaration: "Being called "America's Foodiest Town" by Bon Appetit was the biggest disservice ever paid to the Boulder/Denver dining scene. It's a laughable title to anyone in the industry...." Amen, brother.
How a girl from Louisiana makes the best pasta dishes in Denver is a long story. No matter. Suffice it to say that after just one bite of Elise Wiggins's tagliatelle tangling with house-cured pancetta, her gnocchi or fettuccine with wild mushrooms, nirvana ensues. She has mad cooking skills, but she also understands how to run a tight kitchen -- and how to nudge her staff of mostly men to do exactly what she wants without resorting to theatrics or drama. She's definitely a woman in charge and not afraid to speak her mind, which would make for great sound bites on Top Chef. And then there's the fact that she's lovely to look at.