Hotel Rates

Top Chef Season 15 Premiere: 'It'll Take More than a Pot Luck'

For its 15th season, Top Chef, the smash Bravo TV show, is featuring Denver, Colorado, where 15 chefs from across the country will compete in high-pressure culinary challenges. Colorado chefs Carrie Baird (Bar Dough in Denver) and Brother Luck (Four by Brother Luck in Colorado Springs), are vying for the Top Chef title, and the stakes have literally never been higher.

Top Chef Premiere Recap: Meat-and-Potatoes on Larimer SquareTop Chef contestant Carrie Baird – Bar Dough

The season kicks off with an aerial view of the snow-capped Rocky Mountains and a panoramic shot of the cherry-red “Denver” signage that illuminates the Denver Pavilions.

Next, in the Top Chef  kitchen, the contestants confidently rattle off their accomplishments and size up one another. Host and judge Padma Lakshmi struts out and, after a bit of reassuring small talk, announces the first Quickfire Challenge: It’s a potluck!

Baird makes bruschetta while Luck settles on pork carnitas.

The judges—Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons and Graham Elliot—turn the tables on the chefs and ask them to judge each other’s dish. Baird’s summer bruschetta with jalapeno-blueberry jam, sharp cheddar and a raw salad tossed in a roasted tomato vinaigrette doesn’t impress her peers; she’s in the bottom two.

“You have to have more focused food when you’re doing something that simple,” warns Colicchio.

Luck lands squarely in the middle of the pack. And then we go to the meat of the matter: the Elimination Challenge.

“In recent years, Denver has had a culinary renaissance, and the chefs in this town are taking food to a new level,” Simmons tells the challengers.

Still, as Lakshmi points out, the Denver of decades ago favored meat and potatoes. The challenge? Cook a modernized meat-and-potato dish for 200 locals on Larimer Square, Denver’s oldest—and most decorated block—for dining. It’s here where rollicking nightlife intersects with exhilarating restaurants like Rioja, a sultry set-dressed Spanish- and Mediterranean-inspired stunner that cemented the stardom of Jennifer Jasinski, a James Beard Foundation award-winner for Best Chef Southwest—and a contestant on Top Chef Masters. Baird, who did time in the kitchen of Euclid Hall, also on Larimer Square, declares, “I’m not going to be in the bottom again.”

While the judges taste their way through the dishes, cameos and commentary emerge from some of Denver and Boulder’s most illustrious chefs—including Keegan Gerhard (D Bar Denver), Troy Guard and Frank Bonanno, both of whom have restaurants on Larimer Square, Gregory Gourdet (Departure) and Boulder-based Hosea Rosenberg, who waltzed away with the Top Chef season five title.

Baird, who’s being cheered on by her home crowd, serves a lemon-kissed goat cheese dip and braised beef short ribs with pickled shallots and thyme-studded potato chips. She’s confident…until Colicchio announces that his chip is burnt. Oops. Luck gets better feedback for his purple potato puree, goat cheese and lamb dish.

The judges convene to discuss—and dissect—the plates. Luck doesn’t lose any ground, but Baird is relegated to the bottom three…again.

“You should have highlighted the potato a bit more; the dish was all about the lemon goat cheese,” chastises Colicchio, later adding, “Bad chip, bad dip” to his critique. Ouch.

Baird is spared! Instead, Melissa Perfit, a San Francisco chef who never seemed to find her groove, is asked to pack her knives and go. She’ll have the opportunity to redeem herself in the Last Chance Kitchen duel, and Baird, along with Luck, will return for episode two.

A preview of upcoming Top Chef Colorado episodes proves that there’s still plenty of drama to come at venues like Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Fruition Farms and the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, as well as in Telluride and Aspen. Best preview line? While teasing a plate of Rocky Mountain oysters, Lakshmi quips, “Hope no one’s allergic to nuts.”

By Lori Midson


More Episodes

Denver's Dining Scene