Top Chef Season 15 Episode 1: 'It'll Take More than a Pot Luck'
For its fifteenth 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 Square
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.”
LoDo's Larimer Square
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 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
Tune into Top Chef every Thursday night on Bravo. Check your local listings for airtimes.
Larimer Square's Foodie Hotspots
Denver’s Larimer Square is an exhilarating hotbed of upscale boutiques, swanky bars and nationally renowned restaurants, commanded by some of the city’s most notable chefs.
It’s no surprise, then, that the premiere of Top Chef Colorado unfolded on the most vibrant culinary block in The Mile High City—a nucleus that’s swelled with influential culinary power players who have built restaurant empires.
Here’s a rundown:
Rioja, a Spanish and Mediterranean food pilgrim’s paradise, cemented the stardom of Jennifer Jasinski, a James Beard Foundation award-winner for “Best Chef Southwest” and a formidable competitor on Top Chef Masters.
She, along with her business partner Beth Gruitch, also own Euclid Hall, a lively gastropub that unleashes house-made sausages and poutines alongside a stellar craft-beer scroll. They’re the masterminds, too, behind Bistro Vendome, an elegant, enchanting and oh-so-romantic French restaurant tucked away in a discreet courtyard just off Larimer Square, as well as Stoic & Genuine and Ultreia in nearby Denver Union Station.
Excellent pizzas, lovely cheese spreads and handcrafted charcuterie are the siren songs of Osteria Marco, an Italian restaurant in the heart of Larimer Square that showcases the wide-ranging talents of prolific award-winning chef Frank Bonanno, who also owns three other Larimer Square gems: Green Russell, a sultry speakeasy, Russell’s Smokehouse, a barbecue restaurant and Wednesday’s Pie, an old-fashioned pie shop.
Troy Guard’s flagship Larimer Square restaurant, TAG, dabbles in innovative Asian-leaning dishes, which are often flecked with memorable little touches: a dusting of black lava salt on his burrata and edible flowers on his herb-punctuated risotto. Guard’s restaurant empire, which extends across the city, ballyhoos 10 restaurants, with more in the pipeline.
Larimer Square represents just the beginning of a proper culinary adventure. Check back for more inside tips as the TV series unfolds.