November 17th, 2009 5:33 pm | by Kate Williams News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Top Chef in Portland (finally!)

Bravo's best reality show finally jumped on the Portland-happy bandwagon—casting producers stopped by last Sunday to hold open castings for Top Chef. All those with passable cooking knowledge and a vocal personality were invited to throw their knifes into the hat for a chance at mid-level TV stardom. "We want people who are outspoken and passionate" about cooking, Hunter Braun, one of the show's casting directors, told WW.

Indeed, the Top Chef application (available for download from the Top Chef website) not only asks about restaurant experience, but also about potentially heated topics like restaurant cliches, most embarrassing moments and bragging rights. These questions are intended, Braun insists, to hone in on pride, not to create a dramatic cast. "It's not drama that we seek. We want people who are going to have pride in a dish. I think that sometimes pride can get confused with drama."

As any Top Chef fan knows, much of this drama... er... pride... comes from the elevated levels of accomplishment amongst the contestants. Each season, the selected cast enters with more honors than the season before. This year, for example, there are chefs who have worked under tapas master Jose Andres (Michael Isabella), seafood god Eric Ripert (Jennifer Carroll) and restaurateur extraordinaire Charlie Palmer (Bryan Voltaggio), as well as a James Beard nominee (Michael Voltaggio). "I think that maybe executive chefs who were afraid to apply in the first couple of seasons realized that the competition is serious now, so we're definitely having a higher level of chef apply ... and we are probably having fewer home cooks apply for sure," says Braun.

It is logical, then, for a show focused on rising talents to end up here in Portland. Braun said he was hoping to meet "really cool" creative and sustainability-minded chef. "I definitely think there's something unique about Northwest chefs... Not every city has a clientele that will appreciate unique and inventive food, but it definitely seems that in Portland, the restaurant goers and the foodies are willing to try new things, so that makes the chefs more inventive as well."

Braun explains that this focus on talent is what sets Top Chef apart from other reality television. "You can't fake culinary ability, even if it is on TV." So what did they find in our proud little foodie burg? Braun stayed mum on Sunday's casting call at the Benson Hotel but he did tell us this: "Portland's favorite restaurants are tucked away in so many different neighborhoods all over the city, so we've had a blast bouncing around town to seek out the best and brightest chefs," he says. "We're thrilled with what we've found!”
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