Gary Walker (fourth from left), John Vermiglio (fifth from left) and Nick…
New reality show "Around the World in 80 Plates" has some serious eye candy in the form of co-hosts Cat Cora and Curtis Stone, but that's not the only reason you should tune in. You witness the egos and cooking chops of"Top Chef," the strategy and alliances of "Survivor," and the international travel and adrenaline of"The Amazing Race."
The show debuts at 9 p.m. Wednesday on Bravo and features a cast of 12 chefs—three with Chicago ties—traveling to different foreign cities and taking over local restaurants in an attempt to recreate the native cuisine. But instead of a panel of experts judging a la "Top Chef," the city's local diners pick the winners—and the losing chefs have to vote one of their own off the show. We talked with the three chefs representing Chicago about their own world travels, food memories and strategy on the show.
Has worked at: Bespoke Cuisine, now-closed La Tache (where "Top Chef" stars Dale Levitski and Stephanie Izard also worked), Tweet and his own private chef company, Cheflove. Though he recently moved to L.A., he was working as a chef for the Kappa Phi Delta sorority house at Illinois Institute of Technology at the time of filming. "I was incredibly proud to represent Chicago," he said. "Chicago was really where my professional career started, so it will always be a home for me and I will always appreciate the wonderful people there who have given me my start there."
How he introduces himself: "Gary—the "r" is silent, just kidding—Walker."
Pre-show travels: Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, England, France, Germany, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands and Spain.
Why he might have an advantage: He worked as a travel agent before studying to become a chef at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.
Coolest food memory: Eating lamb brains at a Lebanese restaurant in Paris in his early 20s before deciding to become a chef.
Dream culinary vacation: "One of my dreams biggest dreams has always been to travel to Tahiti. Now not in terms of its culinary importance in the world scene, but … I've been so inspired as a young person by the images of Gauguin when he would paint his experiences in Tahiti. That's always struck me as a place I have to go."
Strategy on the show: "I went in strictly [thinking] this is going to be a great experience and I'm going to have a lot of fun and meet some wonderful people, and that's exactly what happened."
Has worked at: The Drawing Room since it opened in 2007. Before that, he worked at Green Zebra, now-closed Spring, Trotter's To Go and Boka.
It's a small world because: He recognized fellow cast member John Vermiglio when filming began. "I was kind of giving him a hairy eyeball. I was like, 'I know you somehow.' And he and I actually had spent a couple shifts together at Trotter's To Go [years ago]. I couldn't place him at first, and as soon as he opened his mouth I knew exactly who he was."
On unintentionally dissing a host: "I didn't know much about Curtis Stone and I actually, in one of my early on-camera interviews, I'm pretty sure I talked a little [bleep] about him. … [I was asked,] 'Are there any chefs you don't' like?' And I don't know what it is, but they put a camera in front of my face and I go from like quiet, humble dude to like MC Ren—I started talking [bleep] about everyone. I was like, 'Yeah, Guy Fieri, hate him. Yeah, Bobby Flay, hate him. … The guy that goes to grocery stores and picks up chicks, I don't really like him either. I don't even know what he does.' And sure enough, there he was [hosting the show]! I'm hoping that'll end up on some editing room floor someplace."
Pre-show travels: Costa Rica, El Salvador, England, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua and Wales. "And of course, the lovely Canada, because I grew up in Vermont , so I used to drive up to Montreal. It's so easy, like a two-hour drive and you're on [Sanit] Catherine Street, so that's a beautiful city as well and a great food city."
Dream culinary vacation: "I've always wanted to do a nice month or two-month trip to Vietnam and all the countries of Southeast Asia. Their food is just fresh and they like their fish fishy … Laos, Cambodia, Thailand. I would love to just go and disappear some place over there."
Strategy on the show: "Whenever I'm in a situation like trying out for a job or doing a stage or anything, I'm so comfortable in the kitchen that I figure I'm going to show up, do my best, my knives are sharp, and whatever happens will be the best I can bring."
Has worked at: Table Fifty-Two, where he was executive sous chef. He was recently hired away from Art Smith's restaurant to work as sous chef for Graham Elliot's new West Loop restaurant, G.E.B.