Bravo TV's “Top Chef” is cooking with gas here in Kentucky, and here’s what I can tell you: It smells really good.
But what I can't tell you is a whole lot. Filming is taking place in the state, but the cooking competition show won't be broadcast until the fall. And, as with many reality series, there are plenty of things the producers don't want viewers to know before the show airs. Sorry. But, after spending some time on the set Friday, here are the few things I can share.
Who’s on it? Anyone from Kentucky?
Ha! You didn’t think I’d be able to tell you that, did you? All I can say is you have to watch and see if you can spot the next culinary stars.
What are they making?
Some good stuff, some less good stuff. Bourbon figures prominently. And I noticed sorghum in the set pantry. So they're getting their Kentucky on.
Where are they filming?
Can’t say that either. But they’ve been spotted around Louisville and will be coming to Lexington and to Lake Cumberland very soon.
What does the set look like?
Like a marriage of the “Top Chef” signature sleek kitchen esthetic with Kentucky authenticity, as reimagined by Hollywood.
How do I attend a taping?
If you are interested in attending a taping, send email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Top Chef” does sometimes announce on social media that it will have an event. But it rarely say anything far in advance because plans are very fluid.
However, there may be an opportunity in the near future for fans to come to something very special. Just know that you may not get to actually taste anything.
So, who does get to come and eat that stuff?
Some are people like me, media. Many are "friends" of the show such as sponsors, friends of sponsors, tourism officials, other food industry folk and occasionally there are charity tie-ins, people who have won tickets through a silent auction or other event.
Are things different this year?
Yes. They are. There are interesting twists. I'm not allowed to say more.
What’s Padma like in person?
Host Padma Lakshmi is more charming than she even appears on TV. Unassuming enough to wear flip-flops when not on camera. And clever enough to deliver her lines with spontaneity and humor. And she really does taste all that food.
While the show has begun taping episodes under wraps, Lakshmi has had time to scout the local culinary scene. She hasn't yet been to Lexington but in Louisville she's visited Feast Barbecue and Royals Hot Chicken.
She hasn't had much free time to explore, but she has a lot of options: "We did tweet out for suggestions, and I could write a directory now," Lakshmi said.
Why does she order so much food?
Because she wants to try everything. And she's usually eating with family and friends. "Also, chefs send me out stuff. I will try everything, though. I'm curious and I share with everybody."
How does she find the best places?
"I ask the locals. I want to discover the highs and the lows. I do read and see, have there been any James Beard award winners from this city, or who do I know."
She likes to ask young people, Uber drivers, anybody. "I do want to go to the fancy restaurant, but I also want to go to the truck stop. And I feel like the truck stop is almost the better discovery. I eat a lot of fancy food on the show."
What has she had that has surprised her so far?
"The thing I did try, which I'd never had before, which makes complete sense, is the bourbon slushy," she said. "I had a mint julep bourbon slushy and I thought, 'a slushy? Come on.' But honestly, it was much better than what you get a 7-11."
What does she have to have before she leaves Kentucky?
"I haven't had a hot Brown yet. ... I have to pace myself. Today was actually a very light eating day, just one bite. Usually I get meat and potatoes 12 ways."