The touring Top Chef road show stopped in San Antonio a few weeks back, delegating season four contestants Dale Talde and Ryan Scott to a local grocery store for a quickfire beef challenge (San Antonians picked the featured ingredient via Facebook. Score one for the Texas Beef Council.)
But Dale and Ryan apparently aren't the only culinary celebs with Top Chef ties to show up in Alamo City this month. As Eater reported today, a fan recently spotted Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, Padma Lakshmi, Emeril Lagasse, and Tre Wilcox at John Besh's Luke--and was bawled out by Simmons when she tweeted her sighting. Rumormongers are certain the incident means the show is filming in San Antonio.
If cheftestants have been called to San Antonio, just what might they expect to face other than life force-robbing heat? Here, five challenges you might see during Top Chef's ninth season.
San Antonio is arguably the epicenter of Tex-Mex cuisine, the much-maligned tradition that's responsible for queso, cheese enchiladas, and combination plates. But while eaters from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Ore., are familiar with nachos and margaritas, puffy tacos are tough to find beyond San Antonio.
The taco shells, made from fresh, moist masa, resemble misshapen balloons, much like sopapillas without the sweetness. The puffy taco is so firmly associated with San Antonio that "Henry the Puffy Taco," named for the restaurant that claims to have originated the dish, serves as mascot for the town's minor-league ball team.
Like crispy tacos, puffy tacos typically come filled with chicken, beef, or beans. But a prospective Top Chef can be counted on for a more innovative presentation, right?
Once a seedy pedestrian corridor, San Antonio's River Walk is a major tourist attraction and home to many of the city's top restaurants. It's also the locale of dozens of dining chains, giving the tame waterway the feel of the fake canal that runs through The Venetian in Las Vegas. While many visitors end up at Hooters, Hard Rock Café, or Joe's Crab Shack, it's a fair bet the Top Chef judges aren't going to any of those restaurants. Expect to see contestants cooking or serving aboard gondolas.
San Antonio proper isn't home to any of the Texas barbecue joints that regularly contend for the informal best-in-state title (a contest that's lost some pep since Franklin Barbecue started smoking). But the city sits on the edge of Hill Country, the state's leading barbecue region. A trip to Texas isn't complete without a pound of un-sauced brisket, hot sausage, jalapenos, raw onions, white bread, and a hunk of cheddar cheese. For an episode that screams "team challenge," Top Chef contestants will surely be called upon to spend a night in the pit.
There are plenty of time-tested Texas traditions to keep this season's Top Chef crew busy, but a food show's unlikely to ignore Austin's food trucks. Houston may be more deserving of the attention, but viewers are hungry for more, more, more coverage of mobile empanada, kebab, and crepe operations. Here's guessing the contestants will be paired off to create a signature food truck treat and serve it.
Any television show shooting in Texas is obliged to include images of cows, hats, boots, and spurs. Top Chef can pick up all four at a chuck wagon cookout, the cowboy-sanctioned way of getting grub on the table. Top Chef loves subjecting its contestants to the outdoors, and its producers probably can't resist the siren song of tumbling tumbleweed. The show's contestant list is still a mystery, but this win's going to whomever can brew the best cowboy coffee, bake the best sourdough biscuits, and chicken-fry a steak over an open fire. Good luck, y'all.