Colorado is finally getting a little national attention for the great culinary scene that's been building here in recent years. Cable network Bravo just announced that it will soon begin filming season fifteen of its popular culinary reality show Top Chef in Denver, Boulder and Telluride. Details about what tricky challenges the cheftestants will face have not yet been revealed, so we thought we'd lend a hand with some suggestions. Here are ten challenges we think should be part of Top Chef season fifteen in Colorado.
1. Green Chile Challenge
For this challenge, the chefs will head down to Pueblo to tour chile farms and sample some fiery, Colorado-style green chile before returning to the competition kitchen with bushels of pepper pods that they must roast, peel, seed and use in creative cooking. Bonus points for any chef who can also replicate the day-glo glop made famous by Chubby's.
2. High-Altitude Challenge on Top of a Fourteener
This challenge begins with a hike to the top of one of Colorado's famous peaks, laden with all the gear and grub needed to prepare a gourmet dinner, complete with bread, at more than 14,000 feet above sea level. Since the boiling point of water at this elevation is only 186 degrees Fahrenheit, even boiling potatoes will prove difficult. And the gusty winds can make salting food a futile mission — not to mention the challenge of keeping curious wildlife at bay.
3. Cooking With Beer
With some 300 craft breweries making beer in the Centennial State, there's almost more beer than water available for cooking. But cooking with beer means far more than just simmering sausages in stout. For this challenge, contestants would take a page from Denver chef Jensen Cummings' Brewed Food philosophy and use beer-making ingredients — hops, barley, brewers' yeast and beer-friendly spices — to come up with dishes that pair well with suds.
4. Cooking and Pairing Food With Cannabis
Okay, so this one probably won't happen, but we'd love to see a guest spot from chef Scott Durrah, formerly the co-owner of Jezebel's Southern Bistro, who now helps run the Simply Pure dispensary and its culinary offshoot, Simply Cooking. Or Top Chef could bring back season 5 winner and Blackbelly chef/owner Hosea Rosenberg, who educates Denver and Boulder diners about pairing weed and food at occasional cannabis-themed pop-up dinners. The cheftestants could get a crash course in the cannabis basics before sampling for flavor profiles and then heading for the kitchen. The hardest part would be making sure finished dishes make it to the judging table before they get eaten.
5. Cooking on a Restaurant Farm
Several Denver and Boulder restaurants run their own farms where they grow vegetables and raise livestock that end up on their menus. The competitors could take a trip to Alex Seidel's Fruition Farm, Eric Skokan's Black Cat Farm, or the Squeaky Bean's ACRE, run by partner Josh Olsen at Warren Tech High School. After harvesting their own veggies, the cheftestants would prepare a farm dinner for a large group. Milking a sheep or a goat would earn respect and points.
Keep reading for more challenges.
6. Getting the Most From Colorado Meats
Chefs selected for the show will certainly be well-versed in cooking with all manner of proteins, so the contest here would have to include a higher level of difficulty. Elk, lamb or bison would have to be served raw as a carpaccio or tartare, or a timed challenge would have the chefs preparing surprise organ meats — brains, kidneys or other jiggly bits — on short notice. If filming overlaps with hunting season, so much the better.
7. Brunch Challenge
Denver weekend warriors linger over brunch like we invented the mid-morning meal, so in this challenge, the chefs would have to compete to gain the attention of brunch hunters downtown. Outdoor brunch cafes would be set up by each chef; the winner would be decided by how many customers were lured in by each — and how many guests stayed the longest, lolling over creative takes on Bloody Marys in the warm Colorado sun.
8. Play Ball: A Rocky Mountain Oyster Challenge
We don't really want to see this one happen, but it seems almost inevitable. The episode would of course entail a visit to the Buckhorn Exchange or Bruce's Bar in Severance — and then the contestants would go nuts to see who could come up with the most creative testicle specials.
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9. Update the Denver Omelet to Make It Edible
Nobody in Denver actually orders a Denver omelet, because let's face it: They kind of suck. A boring mix of ham, bell peppers and onions does nothing to further the cause of Colorado cuisine. Judges would give high marks to the chef who could reinvent the dish for modern tastes while capturing the spirit of Denver — something not accomplished by rubbery cubes of ham.
10. A Burger Challenge Inspired by a Visit to the Shrine to the Original Cheeseburger
Contestants would take a drive up Speer Boulevard to pay respects to Louis Ballast, who laid claim to being the inventor of the cheeseburger at his Humpty Dumpty Barrel Drive-In in 1935. Back in the kitchen, top honors would go to the perfect burger — the simpler, the better. With a group of competitive cooks vying to grab the judges' attention, maintaining restraint would be the toughest challenge of the season. But if Ballast could do it, we have faith that these modern gustatory gladiators can prevail.