Top Chef Casting Director Tells All

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At the Top Chef tryouts yesterday at Craftsteak, more than 100 hopefuls turned out to pack their knives and go to the next season. The fifth season of the show was the highest rated ever and cheftestants are now getting book deals and maybe even TV shows in addition to all that Gladware. Molly Finkelstein spoke to casting producer Hunter Braun on bikini chefs, caribou, and repeat auditions.

Whats happening here today?
This part is really sort of a basic meet-and-greet. They can give us a first impression of who they are and how well they fare when it comes to speaking about food. We test their chops a little bit, just in conversation and sort of get an idea of their culinary skill and experience, titles theyve held at different restaurants before, whether theyre self-taught or went to culinary school, which culinary school. Sometimes you can judge things like that and sometimes you cant.

Are there some unqualified hopefuls?
There are people who arent even chefs that apply. And its great, we love to have everyone apply, but at the end of the day, the only people who are going to make it on the show are seasoned chefs that know how to cook and know how to throw down and be creative in their dishes.

Do you humor them?
It narrows down significantly after these open calls; were sort of looking and pushing those people aside.

Are there lots of repeat tryouts?
I hate that word, but yeah, its what they are. But actually yeah, it takes a good many of our competitors a few times to get on the show. I think Jamie Lauren has. I think she applied for every season and then she finally made it on season five.

The applications are 25 pages. Why so long?
We can get an idea of the creative mind of the chef. The line I like to use is that its great if you can take apart a caribou in fifteen seconds, but if you cant make an inventive dish with it, you might not be right for the show. Were looking for ways in which you can construct a dish thats unique and tasty and sounds amazing.

Do people do anything gimmicky to get on the show?
For Top Chef, its serious chefs who are excited and thrilled about their craft and just want to show off their skills. No bikini chefs, no crazy outfits, no crazy shticks or anything like that. Its just about the food.