How well did the Top Chef production team familiarize itself with what makes Seattle Seattle? In this recurring column, we gauge how fairly the previous night's episode represented the city - and correct misconceptions viewers elsewhere might form based on the show.
1. Marilyn Hagerty wouldn't make it here.
As the Seattle Times' Rebekah Denn points out in her summary of last night's show, the producers had their pick of knowledgeable Seattle food writers for the Quickfire guest judge slot. (I'm with Rebekah: Nancy Leson would have been an inspired choice.) Instead, they imported a North Dakota columnist who's become a running joke in culinary circles. The decision was unfair to contestants, whose hard work deserves an arbiter who can tell a taco from a tamale, and to Hagerty, whose Midwestern sincerity was held up for mockery.
But it was especially unfair to viewers, because it created the false impression that Hagerty's somehow representative of the region's food writers. Ironically, Hagerty - who catapulted to fame on the strength of an unironic Olive Garden review - probably would have missed her big break if she lived in Seattle.
Of the nation's 25 biggest cities, only Memphis features a longer drive from the city's center to the nearest Olive Garden than local fans of the Italian chain routinely endure. It's 9.8 miles from downtown to the Olive Garden in Kirkland, or 11 miles to the Olive Garden at Southcenter Mall - more than twice the distance most urban Olive Garden lovers have to travel to get their endless breadstick fix. (In Memphis, the Olive Garden's 10.53 miles from the center of town.)
2. Who are Anna Faris and Chris Pratt?
Actors, apparently - and Faris has a clutch of MTV Movie Awards to show for it. But the duo's probably better known around Seattle as the daughter of a former University of Washington vice president and that boy from Lake Stevens. Hollywood stars generally aren't a huge deal in Seattle (although thousands of fans swarmed Pike Place this summer when Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis darted through on a movie promo.) Had Top Chef really wanted to tap into the city's celebrity zeitgest, it might have moved its shoot down the block to EMP and asked a pair of local musicians to serve as judges.
3. Welcome to Seattle. Have a Prius!
Folks don't walk the streets of Seattle humming the Prius jingle (it's still too early to tell whether last night's repeated airing of the commercial will change that situation), but maybe all the Prius drivers are singing that happy song. Seattle is Prius-mad: While online Department of Licensing vehicle counts don't reveal how many hybrids are on Seattle roads, the city is a national leader in hybrid loyalty, meaning drivers here are most apt to buy another Prius when the first one goes. A Prius was the perfect prize for a Seattle contest.
4. Seattle chefs don't have to cook with colds.
When Eliza was declared last night's loser, she declined to shake the judges' hands, explaining she was coming down with a cold. But she'd just cooked while sick, a practice that public health advocates hope will become less common locally under the city's Paid Sick/Safe Time ordinance, which went into effect this September.
While it's still too early to assess how many workers are taking advantage of the rule's provisions, all businesses with the equivalent of five full-time employees, including restaurants, are now required to provide staffers with five to nine days of paid sick leave annually. The ordinance doesn't make any mention of televised cooking competitions.