Top Chef Mania Hits San Antonio!

Top Chef logoMySA is reporting that Bravo director of communications Tory Brody has confirmed that “a large percentage [of Top Chef’s next season] will be in San Antonio.” In fact, the season is focusing on Texas, not just San Antonio, with filming also having taken place in Austin and Dallas. Of course, San Antonio foodies have known this for weeks, as there have been repeated sightings of various Top Chef glitterati around town. I have had two brushes with the cast. Last Sunday while having brunch at The Monterey, thepixelarchitect and I walked right past regular judge Gail Simmons and her husband dining al fresco and trying the breakfast casserole — an excellent choice.

But there’s more! Those of you who follow me on Facebook got live updates of a much more exciting encounter that livened my morning last Thursday. Herewith is the full tale in all its glory . . .

After dropping thepixelarchitect off at his office, I proceeded to one of my “offices away from home,” Madhatters Tea House & Café. Readers of this blog may remember my previous post about the place.

La Frite Belgian Bistro

La Frite Belgian Bistro


Anyway, as I turned onto South Alamo, several blocks from my destination, I noticed two things. First, backed up, slow moving traffic — very unusual for this location, and particularly at 8:25 a.m. Second, as I sat in said traffic in front of another favorite neighborhood restaurant, La Frite Belgian Bistro, I noticed a camera crew racing inside. This seemed odd, because La Frite is not open at that hour. I shrugged it off as a crew probably recording a segment for the evening news.

As I turned my attention back to the crawling traffic, we were approaching the next intersection. Up till this point, I had been following a humongous truck — a commonplace occurence here in Texas! — and hadn’t been able to determine the cause of the traffic. The truck began a left turn and I darted around it to continue my journey down the street, assuming that the truck itself had been the culprit. Except that it wasn’t. I noticed a bicyclist on my right and a slow-moving car in front of me. I was paying attention to the cyclist and for a few moments failed to notice that the slow moving vehicle in front of me was a mini-van with its back lid raised, inside of which sat a cameraman pointing a huge camera directly at me!

Mind you now, we’re traveling slowly enough down the street that I can’t even get completely into first gear. Very annoyed, I was. But when I noticed the camera, I became flustered. “WTH is going on?” “Did I cut in front of a car that they’re SUPPOSED to be filming?” “Have I been appropriately courteous to this bicyclist?”

As we continued down the road, the cyclist and I kept pace with each other, and shared the road nicely. It began to dawn on me that they were filming her for some reason, though I couldn’t imagine why.

As we approached the corner where Madhatters sits, the van pulled over, and the cyclist came to a stop to let me get out of their way. I pulled into the empty Madhatters lot and went inside to claim my favorite table.

Madhatters Teahouse & Café

Madhatters Teahouse & Café, with a full parking lot!

In hindsight, I should have known something was up. This place is never empty, nor is its parking lot ever empty. I suspect that they were asked to keep the place cleared out until about the time that I happened to arrive (8:30), so that the kitchen would be available for what was about to happen.

The cyclist I’d been driving alongside burst into the door at the far end of the room, followed by a camera crew. She disappeared into the kitchen, and the cameraman followed, with several crewmembers milling about. This is when it clicked that Top Chef was “in the house” and something exciting was going on.

[Possible SPOILERS ahead.]

While the first contestant was in the kitchen, another contestant arrived outside. They were both riding identical bicycles, and the other contestant had her own camera crew. They waited for the first contestant to finish. She came out of the kitchen after about 30 minutes, with a clear plastic tub of some kind of red sauce. On camera, she hurriedly paid one of the restaurant staffers and took off.

As soon as she left, the other contestant entered from the door I was sitting next to, so I got a better view of this encounter — with the cameraman directly to my right and crew all around me. She stopped just inside the door and asked “May I use your kitchen?” Getting permission to do so, she, too, raced into the kitchen, cameraman in tow. Again, crew milling about the place. This time for much longer. She probably spent about an hour in the kitchen. Her exit was at the other end of the restaurant, so I didn’t see much of that, other than noticing that she made payment as well.

As I was updating Facebook about what I was experiencing, more information came in that revealed a pattern. Several restaurants around Southtown had been asked to be available that morning, though none received any guarantees that they would be used. They were also forbidden from discussing the matter. (As an aside, none of my information came from anyone who wasn’t supposed to talk — I just put two and two together and added information gleaned from other friends and neighbors “on the street” that morning.)

So, best guess at what seems to have been going on: a race between contestants, who were given a list of available restaurants and told to visit a certain number of them, assess what was available in those kitchens and work with only those ingredients to prepare a component of a meal to be assembled later. One component per kitchen, and pay for what you use. The fact that this was a race also explains why at least one of our favorite places did not get a visit — they were probably simply too far down the road. A pity, too, because the “cheftestants” missed out on one of the best stocked pantries in the area.

After all the players had left the building, those of us who had been seated in the dining room, and therefore possibly caught on camera, were asked to sign a release. Even in this process, we were only told that they had been filming “a television show.” After signing the release, we were asked to hold it up while we were photographed with it. For what it’s worth, it was marked episode 913, and I signed release number 173.

Whew! Exciting morning. Now to wait for the episode to air!

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This entry was posted in Culture, Food, General, King William, Lavaca, San Antonio, Southtown. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Top Chef Mania Hits San Antonio!

  1. Hugh, How cool! Too bad you didn’t get to taste… I love the way that adventure always finds you, good friend!

  2. Pingback: Quick Bites 19.Aug.2011 | An Average Joe in San Antonio

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