What happens in a Top Chef casting interview must stay in a Top Chef casting interview. Though the press was invited to cover the Top Chef open casting call that took place Monday at Scarpetta restaurant in Beverly Hills, we could not sit in on any interviews and potential cast members were instructed not to speak a word of their confidential conversation.
What discussions occurred in these highly classified meetings? “Here is who really killed JFK; how would you best prepare monkfish?” “Please look over these Snowden files and explain what dish you would pair with each allegation.” “What do you think about Jerusalem – both the city's political climate and also the artichoke?” “Did you really think Nick should have won last season? I mean really … “
Though we can't help you navigate your interview questions, after studying the general atmosphere and speaking with a casting producer and a few hopeful cast members, we can provide you with a handy Survivor's Guide to a Top Chef Open Casting Calls in Los Angeles for future reference.
15. You must bring 3-5 photos of yourself. Make sure you look nice, because people like to look at nice, shiny people on television.
14. You must also bring 10-15 photos of finely-plated food because people like to look at nice, shiny food on television and pretend they are eating it. One chef brought in PR photos from his restaurant and another had a professional photographer friend capture them for him. People take this seriously so don't bring in your Instagrammed lamb leg in Sutro filter.
13. Finally, to complete your application, you must provide a mock menu, with descriptions of “components on plate” for each finely-plated food. Make sure it's memorable – LA was the last stop after New York, Chicago, Dallas and Atlanta.
12. Bring a book. The bar and lounge at Scarpetta was the waiting area – a space so quiet you could hear a saffron thread drop on the floor. One time it reached a low hum but you could still hear Tom Colicchio cooking at his restaurant 1.6 miles away. Keep quiet and finally start reading L.A. Son.
11. … Or don't bring anything because there's barely anyone there and you're not waiting long. Casting producer Mark Levine said that around 50 people attend each (three hour) call, with Atlanta pulling a little less. While we were there, there were no more than a dozen people waiting at a time. Chefs go into the secret interview room in groups of three and we noticed the meetings were merely 5 minutes long – you're in and out in a snap.
10. Bring a coffee from Bouchon Bakery. It's next door and a great way to appear connected in the culinary world. “Oh yes, Thomas Keller, we go way back … to when I bought a coffee from him 27 minutes ago.” Please pack your knives and join the cast.
9. Be the best Type A you can be. They cast on a dynamic combination of resume and personality but, as with all reality shows, they certainly love those personalities. Now, if you're an introvert with super skills, don't be shy. They also bank on the fact that the Type A folks bring out the drama in everyone – so you have a shot too, wallflowers.
8. Be diverse. I mean, you can be a white guy – white guys win Top Chef all the time, but they are looking for diversity in their cast. In every city, the 50 people who show up are are mostly guys, said Levine, which leaves casting directors scouring the globe, calling chefs to get recommendations, and really having to hustle to create a diverse team filled with personality and talent. So, to all women and non-Caucasian male chefs: Come one, come all! Sign up! Make their job and your chances of Padma saying, “Deliiiicious” while eating your squab easier.
7. Wear anything you want. One guy was in his chef jacket and kitchen shoes (maybe he trotted over on a break from work?), others dressed to impress in hip California casual wear, and the rest wore what can only be described as, “some nice slacks.”
6. You don't need a pen. They will have 70 of them in a tiny jar that will never get used because no one is there.
5. Be willing to travel. Two chefs flew down from the Bay area: Jacob Farleigh from the Stanford Park Hotel in San Jose and Jed Banta of Eureka in San Francisco had a couple days off and came down to channel their inner Voltaggios and audition.
4. Don't have time? Send in a video. Levine realizes chefs are busy people and urges them to make a video and send it over.
3. Be camera-ready. You won't be doing any camera tests unless you get a call back the next day, but you can best be sure they're sussing out whether or not you will glow on screen during your first meeting.
2. Know why you're doing it in the first place. Banta and Farleigh said in unison that it's not about the money – it's about exposure. Banta explained, “In such a competitive industry, even being on a few episodes can give you a leg up on the competition. It's more important for people to see your food and to get your face out there.” Money may help a down payment on a restaurant but credibility of being on the show goes further. Or maybe you just want some free cash for hanging out, cooking, and being away from your loved ones for 4-6 weeks starting in May and then again for the finale in October. Know your motivations!
1. Figure out a place to eat after the interview. I asked the Bay area chefs what they plan to eat while they're visiting: “ramen” and “Animal.” Welcome to Los Angeles.