Date: June 12, 2007
Marketer: Bravo TV and NYC & Co.
Venue: Union Square Park
Union Square never smelled so good.
Bravo and NYC & Co. teamed up to bring a taste of "Top Chef" to the Big Apple with a cook-off between season two's New Yorkers, winner Ilan Hall and fan favorite Sam Talbot. But despite all the chopping, mincing and sautéing, those who braved the heat outside the kitchen were left with watery mouths and empty stomachs.
Let them eat chocolate
Set on the north end of the park, a crowd of at least 100 foodies and "Top Chef" fans crowded under a tent to watch their favorites face off and perhaps sample the food stars' creations. Little boxes filled with "Top Chef" chocolates were passed to the crowd before the contest began and were later used as raffle tickets for prizes drawn during the competition. (Meanwhile, the VIP section, filled with "Top Chef" alum, newbies and Bravo reps, were treated to an array of appetizers and drinks to curb their appetite during the event.)
The event served as a kickoff to season three of "Top Chef," which takes place in Miami; it also helped get the city's culinary juices flowing as it heads into NYC Restaurant Week (July 16-20 and July 23-27).
After the introductions of "Top Chef" host and judge Padma Lakshmi and head judge Tom Colicchio, the two contestants manned their stations and started their cooking magic. The chefs had 30 minutes to create an original dish to be featured during Restaurant Week.
Season one's Miguel Morales kept the audience's energy up with free "Top Chef" and Restaurant Week gear and raffled off various prizes courtesy of the sponsors. The network introduced the season three cast to New York.
Fielding questions from the audience
Audience members had the chance to ask questions of any of the people onstage -- some audience members wanted to learn quick and easy cooking tips; others were interested in the show's judging process. But one question repeatedly came up during the cook-off -- will there be any free samples?
As the minutes ticked away, the contestants didn't let the city's hot temperatures get in their way. Once time was up, each dish was presented to the judges for tasting. With only half an hour to cook, it's a miracle they created dishes that seemed to please both the eye and the palate.
Although the fans never got to taste any of the dishes, they still wildly cheered for the contestants. After watching an entire season of the two chefs on TV, it looked like these fans picked their favorites before even coming to the cook-off. Besides, there were still those chocolates the network passed out at the beginning of the event to nosh on.
And the winner is ...
After a quick discussion among the judges, Ms. Lakshmi announced Mr. Hall the winner with his soft-shell crab and summer salad.
"What? I lost again?" Mr. Talbot, who made quail and potatoes, exclaimed.
Despite the competition's intensity, both chefs laughed it off and shook hands before hordes of fans surrounded them asking for hugs and autographs.
The festivities left everyone, including this reporter, with three thoughts in mind -- catch the new season of "Top Chef," reserve a spot for NYC Restaurant Week and where were the free samples again?