Madison Top Chef Tour: A review

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Posted by on August 28, 2008 at 17:28:44:

In Reply to: Meet the Top Chefs! posted by TVie on August 23, 2008 at 18:56:52:

Tasty 'Top Chef' bus stops in Madison

Madison got a savory taste Wednesday of one of the hot and we mean that literally reality shows on cable TV.

The 48-foot, blaze-orange truck for the Bravo channel's "Top Chef" tour opened its doors near the farmers market on King Street as fans milled about, waiting for a chance to board for a cooking demonstration by two of the show's 30-something cooks-turned-superstars: Stephanie Izard, winner of the show's fourth and most recent season, and Dale Levitski, a third-season finalist.

"There's Dale!" one fan gasped as Levitski hopped down the metal steps outside the truck before the demo. Nearby, 10-year-old Troy Pardon waited for an autograph; he and his father Jim drove 5? hours from Gladstone, Mich., just to catch a glimpse of the "Top Chef" pair.

Like "Survivor" for foodies, "Top Chef" pits top-shelf young culinary artists against one another in spur-of-the-moment challenges. Each week, someone is voted off the series while others hang on for the next episode.

Madison was selected for the show's 19-city tour because it "fits our demographic," said tour manager Fred Haug. Cable company "Charter's a big supporter and our fans are great here."

That would include Matt Smith, 20, who surprised his girlfriend Alix Jensen with tickets to the cooking demo for her 20th birthday.

And Brent Gentry, 35, who is such a big fan he and girlfriend Kristin Meyers, 27, host a weekly "Top Chef" party whenever the show airs, in which a group of friends comes over to cook a meal and cheer on their favorite contestants. Friend Sara Beier, 35, drives all the way from Milwaukee to join them because "I don't have cable TV anymore," she said.

Gentry was the first inside the truck for one of three 45-minute demos, done in a fully equipped kitchen with a stove overlooking seats for 32. Wall-mounted TV screens showed close-ups of the chefs' hands as they worked.

Using ingredients they bought Tuesday at the Willy Street Co-op, Izard and Levitski made raviolis for the crowd using local sheepsmilk cheese wrapped in a won-ton skin. Each ravioli was placed on a bed of yellow tomatoes cooked with pluot, a plum-apricot hybrid, and sauteed fennel, finished with a pistachio-lemon vinaigrette and a garnish of fresh basil and watercress.

Izard noted she couldn't visit Wisconsin without making a dish featuring cheese. Plus, she added, "Cheese just makes me happy."

A "Top Chef" fan favorite thanks to her easy-going manner and culinary creativity, Izard kept her Madison audience in stitches as she and Levitski answered questions about the show, their careers and future projects.

Levitski plans to open an upscale diner called Town and Country near Union Station in Chicago. Izard is writing a memoir, planning a casual "gastro-pub" for the West Town or Logan Square neighborhoods of Chicago, and will be in New York today to tape a TV appearance with Rachael Ray.

Izard, the first woman to win the "Top Chef" title and the show's $100,000 cash prize, called Madison "cute" and said she hopes to return some Saturday to visit the Dane County Farmers Market. On Tuesday night she and Levitski dined at the restaurant Harvest, which she called "very tasty."

The pairs' other tips that session: Study the cookbook "Culinary Artistry," learn to season food before attempting to learn anything else about cooking, banish iodized salt from the kitchen (use only kosher or sea salt) and forego all store-bought salad dressings.

"Except," quipped Levitski, who knew avid fans would remember Izard's weakness for French fries dipped in ranch dressing, "maybe ranch."

(Wisconsin State Journal)

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