Year after year, Bravo’s “Top Chef” takes some of the country’s best up-and-coming chefs and puts their culinary skills to the test with high-pressure and sometimes unbelievable challenges. Foodies, home cooks and reality TV junkies alike tune in each week to see which cooks have what it takes to become America’s next top chef – and now you can follow in their footsteps with this “Top Chef” tour through North America. Read on to check out some of our favorite featured “Top Chef” locales in the U.S. and Canada.
The Second City, Chicago, Illinois
Season four took the “Top Chef” competitors to the Windy City, a locale well known for its top-rated restaurants, neighborhood markets and culinary scene. Before sinking their teeth into the city, though, “Top Chef” fans can relive one of the season’s most memorable challenges at The Second City, an improvisation theater troupe whose famed alumni include the likes of Tina Fey, Stephen Colbert and Chris Farley. Here, the chefs were asked to create meals inspired by adjective suggestions from the audience. Luckily, you can just sit back and enjoy the laughs without feeling the heat of a high-pressure elimination challenge.
Craftsteak, Las Vegas, Nevada
Sin City was the star of season six, and there was no shortage of inspiration for quickfire and elimination challenges. From slot machines to ranches to local celebrity entertainers, Las Vegas certainly kept the cheftestants on their toes. Your Las Vegas experience doesn’t have to be nearly as stressful, though: Just make reservations for dinner at Craftsteak, founded by “Top Chef” judge Tom Colicchio, where the cheftestants were tasked with creating vegetarian dishes to impress actress Natalie Portman and her friends. While in the city, you can also catch Penn and Teller’s notoriously funny act at Rio Las Vegas (the chefs also prepared a deconstructed and reconstructed meal for the comedy duo).
American Museum of Natural History, New York, New York
During season eight, the cheftestants put their cooking skills to the test in the Big Apple. One of the earliest challenges took place at the American Museum of Natural History in an episode called “Night at the Museum.” The episode’s quickfire challenge saw the chefs cooking for perhaps the pickiest eaters of all: children. Then, the elimination challenge had the chefs cooking for kids and parents alike using only ingredients a dinosaur would eat. While you don’t have to eat like a dinosaur during your visit, you can learn about the dinosaurs’ diets with a tour of the museum, and create your own dino-inspired menu at home.
Another of the season’s elimination challenges sent the chefs to top restaurants across the city to create meals in the style of each restaurant. You can create your own “Top Chef” pilgrimage here by visiting two of the restaurants featured in the “New York’s Finest” episode: Má Pēche, known for its French-Vietnamese fusion, and Marea, a Mediterranean seafood restaurant.
Whistler Olympic Park, Whistler, British Columbia
The end of season nine put the final contestants to the test at Whistler Olympic Park in British Columbia, where the challenges became their own set of culinary Olympic games. One of the most difficult challenges involved creating a dish while on a moving gondola, rushing out at each stop to grab ingredients and completing the dish by the time the return trip finished. During your ski getaway to Whistler, just be glad you aren’t trying to create a gourmet entrée as you’re making your way up the mountain.
While in Whistler for the Olympic-themed finale, the chefs also competed in a biathlon to gather ingredients for their dishes. Their outdoor activities included cross-country skiing and target shooting, but we won’t blame you if you just stick to the slopes.
Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington
The oldest farmers’ market in the country, Pike Place Market has long been a staple for Seattle-area restaurateurs looking for fresh and locally sourced ingredients. During season 10, the cheftestants cooked with ingredients from the market and even created breakfast on a stick to be served at Pike Place. You won’t have any trouble finding something to eat here, whether you go for fresh doughnuts first thing in the morning or savory seafood later in the day. Another must for any home cook visiting Pike Place is MarketSpice, which carries a seemingly endless selection of fresh spices and teas.
While in Seattle, the cheftestants also visited the coastal city of Bow, where they harvested their own oysters. Shellfish abounds at the farms in Bow, but it’s up to you whether you’d like to dig for your own oysters or leave the harvesting – and the shucking – to the professionals.
Swamps of Louisiana
Season 11 took place in New Orleans, but it wasn’t all fun and games down in the French Quarter. The first challenge of the season whisked the cheftestants to a Louisiana swamp, where they cooked with frog, alligator or turtle — all local delicacies in Cajun cuisine. You won’t need to cook any of these swamp-dwellers, but you can follow in the chefs’ footsteps with a visit to the swamps of Louisiana. Join an organized swamp tour to enjoy the quiet and natural beauty of Louisiana’s landscape. You can even book yourself a cabin in the swamplands to truly immerse yourself in the Louisiana experience before heading back to New Orleans.
Plimoth Plantation, Plymouth, Massachusetts
Thanksgiving took on a very traditional meaning during Boston-based season 12 (now airing), when the cheftestants were tasked with creating a Turkey Day dinner using only the ingredients and tools available during the very first Thanksgiving. To make the experience as authentic as possible, the chefs were taken to the historic Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Mass. You can visit the living museum any time of year for your own taste of history. Costumed actors and a recreated village make it seem as if you’ve stepped back into the 17th century, and the volunteers and staff speak about the period as if it’s really 1627. While you won’t dine like a 17th-century pilgrim, you can visit the Mayflower II ship, explore period crafts and see a real working mill.
(Main image: karen horton)