NEW ORLEANS (AP) — New Orleans’ po-boy shops, gourmet restaurants and suburban bayou-side eateries are the backdrop for the country’s search for its next “Top Chef,” and some of the city’s food stars came out to celebrate.
Chef Emeril Lagasse, who returns as a judge, was among those who walked a red carpet for a pre-premiere screening last week of the 11th season of the hit reality TV food competition, which debuts Wednesday.
“It’s going to be a very interesting season because I think a lot of this new talent maybe haven’t worked with alligator, maybe haven’t worked with turtle,” he said. “The culture and cuisine here is over 200 years old. You can’t say that about a lot of cities. It’s really amazing.”
Chef John Besh, who also served as a guest judge, said he’s excited to share New Orleans cuisine with the world. Besh owns several restaurants in the city, including Restaurant August and Domenica.
“What we have here is really special,” he said. “We have the only indigenous urban cuisine in the country, and to share it with an audience of millions is really special.”
The show will include glimpses inside Lagasse’s restaurant kitchens, Besh’s bayou-side home and kitchen, and modest places such as Cafe Reconcile, which grew in popularity after Hurricane Katrina when its kitchen was spared flooding and was one of the first to reopen.
It’s also been celebrated for its mission to train high school students in at-risk neighborhoods for work in the restaurant industry.
The show’s executive producer, Matt Reichman, said prior to Wednesday’s red carpet that one episode was shot with a focus on the city’s ongoing recovery from Katrina.
But the city has provided many other storytelling opportunities with its rich culinary traditions, history and music.
Among those included in the series is Kermit Ruffins, the jazz trumpeter known to cook up eats on a giant, curbside grill outside his New Orleans night club between sets.
“The competition is nuts,” Reichman said. “The chefs are talented and fierce, but there’s a layer this season that captures the atmosphere of being in New Orleans that was a lot of fun.”
Several contestants walked the carpet among the veteran chefs but it remained unclear who would survive the first cut. The screening stopped short of revealing who would be eliminated.
Besh said he appreciates that the show ventured beyond New Orleans, to bayou-side communities such as Lafitte, Chalmette and north of Lake Pontchartrain.
“Our food ways don’t end at the city limits,” he said. “You have to go out to the bayou, out to the country, to understand where our food comes from.”
Other New Orleans chefs making appearances in the series include Leah Chase, John Folse and Susan Spicer.