The odds of another New York City “Top Chef” are looking pretty good.
Among the 15 new contestants in the latest season of the Bravo reality show, three are from the Big Apple.
The 15th season of the cooking competition, which filmed in multiple cities in Colorado, premieres at 10 p.m., Thursday, on Bravo. In addition to the title of Top Chef, a $125,000 prize is on the line.
Past hometown winners have included Harold Dieterle (Season 1) and Ilan Hall (Season 2).
Meet your current NYC “cheftestants.”
Hometown: Karachi, Pakistan
Neighborhood: Upper East Side
Years in the kitchen: 10
Current gig: Ali is working on opening her own Pakistani restaurant.
Culinary chops: Ali moved to the United States at 18 to attend the Culinary Institute of America. After graduating, she joined the Patina Restaurant Group, working her way from junior sous chef at Café Centro to executive sous chef at Stella 34 Trattoria and then executive sous chef at La Fonda Del Sol. During summer 2016, she also ran her own Smorgasburg stall, VanPakistan, selling Pakistani street food.
Her culinary style: “All of my food is always very influenced by my Pakistani heritage,” she says. “I use a lot of European techniques but with very bold flavors.”
What gives her an edge: Ali has one cooking show victory under her belt: In 2012, she was the first Pakistani woman to win “Chopped.” She had an opportunity to try out for “Top Chef” a few years ago, too, but didn’t think she was ready; the time since has made her a better contestant, she says. “I got to travel a lot, got to work in a lot of different kitchens in a short amount of time. I think it just really boosted my confidence and gave me that extra knowledge I needed to feel like I could compete.”
Her weakness: Ali points to lack of experience compared to the other chefs — at 28, she is the youngest contestant this season. “I wish I could pack in 40 years of experience in 28 years, but you can’t,” Ali says.
Why to root for her: Ali hopes she can bring some exposure to Pakistani cuisine. “I’m really hoping that people would watch the show and realize how fascinating Pakistani food is,” she says. “No. 1 — they go out to their local Pakistani restaurant and eat and be surprised at how delicious everything is.”
Years in the kitchen: 15
Current gig: Cheatham is working on opening her own restaurant focusing on regional Southern classics.
Culinary chops: After getting a degree in journalism, Cheatham worked in a pastry kitchen in Florida before going to Institute of Culinary Education. After graduating, she was at Le Bernardin for eight years, where she became executive sous chef. She went on to work for Marcus Samuelsson, recently as the executive chef of Red Rooster.
Her culinary style: “I want to modernize and update regional Southern classics, and what’s considered African-American cuisine and soul food, to show how versatile it is while also doing more modern techniques and presentations,” she says.
What gives her an edge: Cheatham points to her skills and craft. “One of the things I like to do is be very precise,” she says. “You can be super precise and spend a lot of time conceptualizing and thinking about the science behind it. I love that.”
Her weakness: Cheatham went in to “Top Chef” having seen little of the show. But she wanted to get out of her comfort zone. “If you’re not uncomfortable you’re probably not learning and growing,” she says. The time pressure was a challenge. “I was very reactionary when we got to the kitchen,” she says. “I was just reacting, not ahead ... If you’re in a new environment and you have no idea what you’re doing that day, you can be fast, but you’re never fast enough.”
Why to root for her: Cheatham wants to put a spotlight on minority chefs. Growing up, she would often hang out after school at restaurants where her mother worked. “The people at the top were always white men,” says Cheatham, who is African-American. “I hope this brings visibility to minority cuisine and minority chefs.”
Hometown: Coatesville, Pennsylvania
Neighborhood: Windsor Terrace
Years in the kitchen: 30
Current gig: Scott is the chef of Butterfunk Kitchen and Brooklyn Commune, which he owns with his wife.
Culinary chops: Scott has helped open Stephen Starr’s Washington Square in Philadelphia and served as executive chef for CNN and Time Warner.
His culinary style: Scott is influenced by his family’s Southern heritage and Pennsylvania roots near Pennsylvania Dutch Country. “I’m classically trained, but Southern food is what I was raised on,” he says. “A lot of what you get when you come to Butterfunk is seven generations of authentic Southern family recipes, with an Amish twist.”
What gives him an edge: Scott has TV experience, competing on “Beat Bobby Flay” and “Chopped.” “Once you get to that level of ‘Top Chef,’ you should at least have done some other show,” he says. “You’ve got to be used to the camera being on you.” But Scott didn’t just rest on that; he also trailed at four restaurants (“I knew I’d be thrown a bunch of different ways — I wanted to be prepared for that”) and got advice from friend Kevin Sbraga, who won Season 7 of “Top Chef.” “He basically told me, don’t be nervous, don’t worry about what the others are doing, and do your thing.”
His weakness: Simply, none. Scott is confident he went in as strong as possible. “From the first time I did ‘Chopped’ all the way up to ‘Top Chef,’ I feel like I got better, either skillwise or more intelligent as far as preparation.”
Why to root for him: It’s been a long road for Scott to get on “Top Chef” — he applied four times before getting a call to try out. He then made the tough choice to leave his three children at home for the monthlong shoot. “It was difficult, but I had a job to do, of course,” he says. “But I think it was even more difficult for my wife — she was taking care of both of our restaurants and our kids. It was very cool to have the support of my family.”