Bravo’s ‘Top Chef’ heads to La-La Land for Season 17

‘Top Chef’ – Hellish competition in the City of Angels

Tom Colicchio

Season 17 finds Bravo’s “Top Chef” In Los Angeles for a battle of returning contestants who couldn’t quite bag the grand prize in previous competitions.

Premiering Thursday, March 19, the round of episodes titled “All Stars LA” brings back 10 finalists and five frontrunners from past seasons to vie in iconic locations across the Los Angeles area — from the Griffith Observatory and the Getty Center to the Los Angeles Coliseum and the Walt Disney Concert Hall — in pursuit of a series record $250,000 grand prize. Those who make it through the preliminary rounds, as determined by judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons, will fly off to Italy for the final. As in seasons past, Padma Lakshmi will be the host.

As usual, there will be pressure as the chefs have to work against the clock to create their dishes. Within that context, they’ll also have to contend with numerous Elimination and Quickfire Challenges, one of which this season is a campfire-inspired test that tasks a chef in a mountain cabin with recreating a famous chef’s dish while being guided over the phone by a family member – with the twist being that the family member may or may not know what they’re tasting and, hence, describing.

Colicchio laughs as he recalls the challenge.

“I thought it was funny where some of them, like the person who would walk them through it, had no idea they were talking about fish,” he says. “So you’re at a disadvantage when your family member has no idea what they’re eating. But it’s fun, it’s actually a fun challenge. You know, when someone has to describe to you what the dish is and you have to try to recreate it, that’s fun.”

Less fun, for the chefs at least, is working within a limited time frame. Some can do it well, but others don’t manage their time properly, and still others get too ambitious and run over their allotment. Failure occurs and stress and frustration set in.

“Plus, 16 hours a day, they’re on camera,” Colicchio notes, “or they’re cooking for a Quickfire Elimination or they’re being interviewed. And so there’s no downtime, and then when they get home, there’s a lot of interaction. They’re not sleeping enough, so there’s an exhaustion, especially once they get halfway through.

“You hear it all the time,” continues Colicchio. “These are chefs who are used to spending long hours on their feet, and halfway through they start going, ‘I had no idea it was going to be this hard.’ That’s always the thing, too … and then mentally, you start breaking down when you’re tired.”

George Dickie

George Dickie

George Dickie has been a features writer for Gracenote/Tribune Media Services since 1989, when “Hee-Haw” was still on the air and George “Goober” Lindsay was his first interview. His early interviews ranged from Jim Henson and Dick Van Dyke to Phil Collins and the Dixie Chicks.

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