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Hung over? Not this year

To the idea of another season of “Top Chef,” I say bravo. Actually, I hope I get to say bravo because I hope I get to see the new season of the show on the Bravo network: I read that that iTunes, where I downloaded most of the last season of “Top Chef” after I gave away my TV, isn’t carrying Bravo’s shows anymore.

If that remains the case, I’ll miss one of the few TV shows of the past few years that have really grabbed me – and you never even taste the food. Maybe it was that I cook. Maybe it was seeing people who reach the peak of their creativity and talent under duress. Maybe it was just Camille Becerra.

Living in Aspen, Colo., probably had something to do with why the second and third seasons of “Top Chef” had me transfixed: It’s where the winning chef holds court at the annual Food & Wine Magazine Classic, and they shot the finale at the nearby Hotel Jerome, which gave the last two episodes the full Monday Night Football treatment: big-screens and free snacks.



Maybe I got into “Top Chef” because my life bizarrely started to parallel the show: Two summers ago, I acquired a couch surfer, also an enthusiastic amateur cook. The weekday barbecues we’d bang out before our night shifts started were our Quickfires – trying to perfect one dish under a time limit; in our case, an hour or so before our respective night shifts started. The big weekend barbecues on the patio became like the Elimination Challenge – we’d pick a theme, shop for the cheap meat and produce, and usually 10-15 people would crowd into my employee housing unit to cook a dish each and taste the result

We even had our version of a season finale in the form of an invitation for 15 of us to barbecue at a multimillion-dollar mansion near Aspen Highlands, an evening those present still call “Pimp My Barbecue,” when we ended up cooking in a multimillion-dollar mansion near Aspen Highlands.



(If there were a Quickfire, I would’ve been OK with my bacon-wrapped scallops, but I would’ve lost the Elimination Challenge because I cremated a couple of steaks – although I think the combination of the X Games on the big-screen and plentiful good whiskey had something to do with that: “Dan – Please pack your bourbon and go.”)

The show was even responsible for my best (worst) attempt at a pick-up line of the past year when a conversation turned toward “Top Chef” and who we thought would win the finale.

“Lemme guess,” she said. “You’re a Hung guy.”

“Actually, yeah,” I replied. “As a matter of fact, if you just want to call me the Hung guy, I’m OK with that.”

The line fared as well as C.J.’s broccolini.

For some reason, I always find myself drawn to TV shows where you only get the personalities of the principals in flashes – not just “Top Chef” but “SportsNight,” “The Shield,” the early seasons of “ER.” So I hope the fourth season continues in that vein, with a lot of action and relatively little reality-show melodrama.

Even though there’s no hint of “Top Chef” or any Bravo show being available on iTunes, bravotv.com gives fans a taste of the season to come with a teaser of the first Quickfire challenge for “Top Chef: Chicago” – preparing a deep-dish pizza.

The first episode aired Wednesday, so viewers already have their own idea of who can stand the heat – and who should get out of the kitchen.

– Dan Thomas is the reigning top chef of the Shinto Barbecue series of Aspen.


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