“Top Chef” is in town, filming Season 12 of the Bravo TV series with host and judge Padma Lakshmi and judges Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and Hugh Acheson. Locations are top secret.
But where the celebs are dining isn’t as hush-hush. Tweetosphere chirps offer judge sightings as do photos from the judges themselves. The four were happy to tell us where they’ve been, sometimes with a small child in tow. They tend to visit the chefs they already know: Barbara Lynch, Ken Oringer, Jamie Bissonnette, Tiffani Faison, and Ana Sortun.
O Ya in the Leather District was on most lists. Lakshmi says “every bite” of the 17-course omakase menu “was delicious and different.” Simmons says O Ya was “just truly spectacular.”
As the “Top Chef” crew and contestants settle in for a month or so, there isn’t a local chef who doesn’t want to cook for them. On the set, the show starts with 16 chefs from around the country who compete in various challenges until there’s one remaining “Top Chef.”
Colicchio, a restaurateur and food activist, went to B&G Oysters in the South End for his “fried clam fix” and also feasted with pal Michael Schlow on sushi at Oishii Boston, and an assortment of sashimi at Oringer’s Uni at the Eliot Hotel. The New York-based chef dined at South End’s Coppa with its chef and co-owner Bissonnette, a recent James Beard winner. “We had three-quarters of the menu,” says Colicchio. He calls the horseradish and beef-heart pizza “unusual and different. I don’t think you’ll find that anywhere else.”
Local chef Chris Parsons, an admirer of Colicchio’s, says that if the judge were to visit his Milton restaurant Steel & Rye, he would make pan-roasted New Bedford sea scallops, with parsnip puree, poached rhubarb, and sauteed mousseron mushrooms. “It’s straightforward cooking,” he says of the seasonal dish.
In 2010, Parsons placed third in the elite Bocuse d’Or USA competition. “I’d be more nervous to go on a show like ‘Top Chef,’ ” he says. “You have to be very spontaneous with the food and your resources.”
“People are probably sending [the judges] all kinds of crazy things, and they might just appreciate a burger,” says Jay Murray, executive chef of Grill 23 & Bar. The steakhouse patty is a mix of prime skirt steak and chuck flap, topped with crispy fried onions and horseradish cheese spread. “The spread gives the whole sandwich a little pop,” says the chef.
Lakshmi, who is here with her 4-year-old daughter, dined at Faison’s Sweet Cheeks barbecue in The Fenway and “ate everything from mac and cheese to softball-size biscuits, chicken wings, and pulled pork.” (Faison was a runner-up in “Top Chef” Season 1 in 2006, and a year after competing in the 2010 “Top Chef All-Stars,” she opened Sweet Cheeks. She’ll be on “Top Chef Duels,” which airs in August, as will local chef and Season 10 winner Kristen Kish.) Lakshmi purchased mushrooms and sorrel (which she used for making sandwiches) at Copley Square farmers’ market, cheese and bresaola at Formaggio Kitchen South End, and nibbles from a few food trucks, including Mei Mei.
It can’t be easy for the svelte former model to maintain her figure when eating multiple meals (or tastes) for each cooking challenge. When home in New York, Lakshmi, who grew up partly in Chennai (formerly Madras) in southeast India, eats “more humbly and simply” and mostly a vegetarian diet.
Acheson (a Georgia chef and restaurateur and one of several occasional guest judges this season) brought his 11-year-old daughter Beatrice to Coppa, sampling a green salad “so bright and beautiful,” says Acheson, “whole roasted cauliflower, roasted pig’s tail, and a couple of pizzas that were stellar.”
Toro, also in the South End, wowed the native Canadian. “This is really adventurous food and the place is packed,” says Acheson. He talks of other good meals at Kirkland Tap & Trotter in Somerville, Ming Tsai’s new Fort Point restaurant, Blue Dragon, “great charcuterie” at Post 390 on Stuart Street, and “awesome” clam chowder at B&G Oysters. A serious coffee fan, Acheson heads to either Render Coffee in the South End or Thinking Cup in Back Bay for his morning java.
Simmons went to Ana Sortun’s Cambridge restaurant, Oleana, and “loved the octopus, grilled lamb, spicy fideos, and a nougat, mango, and chocolate dessert.” Simmons, traveling with her 5-month-old daughter, also ate at Dante in Cambridge and Flour Bakery + Cafe, owned by Joanne Chang. “She makes beautiful things,” says the special projects director for Food & Wine magazine.
It’s a boon to Boston restaurateurs when food professionals from other cities stop by. Simmons pays The Hub the ultimate compliment: “It’s a really creative city. You think it’s a small town, but there’s a deep pool of talented chefs here.”