That Time We Were On Top Chef.

If you watched Top Chef last night, you might have noticed some familiar faces in the background!  All last summer, the Seattle blogs and magazines were buzzing with reports that Top Chef was (secretly) in town and filming a new season here.  I kept hoping I’d be in the grocery store when they all started racing around gathering ingredients.

I was browsing Facebook one afternoon when I saw a good friend from college upload a picture of the Space Needle.  He’s incredibly talented and is actually one of Top Chef’s executive producers!  I sent him a message and asked if he was in town, and to see if he wanted to meet and catch up.  We hadn’t seen each other in ten years!

He wrote back pretty quickly and mentioned that he had a Top Chef event coming up the next day, if I was interested in going.  Ummmm, am I interested?  Casey and I LOVE Top Chef – we wait for it all year long, and we love Wednesday nights.  For some reason I just assumed the show was filmed at night, since it was a dinner event.  But a few hours later I got the official invitation, and was surprised to see it started at 9am!

I immediately called Casey and told him he had to clear his schedule.  He moved some things around so he could take a half day and come with me to the taping.  This was way back in July, so my sister was still with us for the summer.  She was totally jealous, but still happily agreed to watch Cullen so we could go. 

The next day, we were up early and so excited to go see the chefs in action!  It was absolutely pouring rain when we got there, and my perfectly flat ironed hair was a big poofy mess – so sad.  It ended up in a pony tail pretty quickly.  I couldn’t take any pictures there, but I did snap one to remember the day after it stopped raining!


We got there and saw about 200 people standing outside in the downpour, and made our way to the back of the line.  Just as we got there, my friend appeared!  It was so fun to see him, and he quickly breezed us past the line and over to a security table.  We had to sign a bunch of nondisclosure agreements (which is why I never mentioned it!), and have our pictures taken, and then we just waited to get started.

While we were waiting there, Chris came over and said he had “somewhere special for us to sit” – and he took us over to one of the other crew managers.  Casey and I were paired up with two other girls, and we waited off to the side while the other 200 guests prepared to enter set.  At this point, Chris came over and told us exactly what we would be doing.  We were beating seated AT the judges’ table.  Aaaaand I just about had a heart attack.

If you haven’t watched the show, you are probably finding this really boring.  I apologize.  In any episode where they do these tasting pavilions, the judges always come back to a table to eat and critique the food.  Well, at this particular event, the tables were set for groups of eight.  Since they only have four judges, they needed four others to fill the space – that would be us!

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I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but I’ll try not to get too wordy (too late).  Before we entered the tasting area, they brought out the judges – Padma, Gail, Tom, and a guest judge I didn’t recognize at the time.  It was SO strange to see them up close and in person. 

We were given instructions that we could mill around and try all the food and talk to the chefs, but any time the judges headed back to the tasting table, we needed to be there (so the filming was consistent).  We sat down at the table first, and then the judges came in a few minutes later.  I ended up sitting directly next to Padma, with Tom diagonally across from me.  It was INSANE.

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We were also supposed to just act natural and engage in our own conversation, while the judges did their thing.  Do I look convincing?  I’m clearly trying to eavesdrop. 

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In all seriousness, the two girls we sat across from were really nice and friendly, and we had a great time talking with them.  We walked around to all the different chef’s booths, and were able to try all of the dishes.  So you might be wondering – what did these two vegetarians EAT?

We knew before we got there that there would like not be any vegan or vegetarian food (chefs rarely make vegetarian dishes unless they are challenged to).  I sort of saw this as a once in a lifetime type of opportunity.  Being able to taste the food from the Top Chefs was such a fun experience, and I didn’t want to go and not take advantage of that.  With that said, I have pretty firm ethical beliefs and reasons for not eating meat, and that’s not something I was willing to be flexible with.

But I’ve mentioned here before that while I don’t usually eat dairy anymore, I’ll have some here and there if we’re out to eat, or if someone has baked a tasty dessert with a little butter.  So I had no problem eating any dairy in the dishes at the event.  The only thing I really bent on was fish.  I hadn’t had fish in two years, but decided that just this once I would try some, in order to share in more of the experience.

It felt really weird to taste fish again.  It’s not something I plan to continue to eat (at least not now), but it didn’t really bother me to eat it either.  I sort of felt indifferent to it.  We did end up getting every dish (except for one), and then we’d just eat all the vegetables and sides, and pick any meat off the dishes. 

Some of the food was AMAZING!  And there was actually one vegetarian dish, which of course turned out to be our favorite.  It was weird to be eating such fancy and decadent food so early in the morning!

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We ended up being there about five hours total, which is funny because in the episode the tasting event lasts only about 15 minutes.  We had to stay from start to finish, until the judges were finished talking about who to send home.  At one point during their conversation, Padma turned to me and asked what I thought of the food.  Suddenly huge boom mikes went over my head, and I have no idea what I babbled.  Very glad it didn’t make the final cut after editing!

After being there for the filming and seeing all the behind the scenes action, I am still such a huge fan of the show.  I assume many reality-type shows like this are actually very scripted and unnatural.  That was definitely not the case here though.  No one ever swooped in or suggested people say certain things, and it was pretty much all done in one (long) take.  No reshoots, scripting, or anything like that.  It was very authentic, and you could tell that the judges took their jobs very seriously.

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It was such a fun experience, and I’m so grateful to Chris for inviting us and giving us such a special seat!  Just being there was awesome, but getting to be so close to the action was pretty crazy.  We had so much fun watching it last night and laughing out our goofy faces popping up in the background. 

I won’t ever be on Top Chef as a contestant, but I found a way to make it on anyway – hurrah!  :)