A couple of weeks ago, we told you about a Top Chef casting call scheduled for 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 18, at Dallas’ Palomar Hotel. As this post is being written, that’s tomorrow.
You can find out a good deal about the casting call here, but Samantha Hanks, a senior casting producer who has been with the show since season seven, called in to give us -- and people who, unlike us, can cook something more complicated than scrambled eggs -- an idea of what to expect.
First tip: You don’t need to pack your knives to go to the casting call.
“There’s no cooking at the open casting call,” Hanks says. “It’s a first step for everyone. You come on in, you meet with the producers, we’re going to ask you some questions about the kind of food you like to cook, what kind of food you can cook. We’re trying to get a sense of what kind of chef you are.”
If the producers like what they see, they send the aspiring cheftestant along to the next step in the process, which will involve some cooking (it could be a challenge as simple as “make the perfect omelet”). But that comes later. And this being reality-competition TV, personality is important -- but it’s still secondary to cooking skills, Hanks says.
“Our show has been on so long, and it’s very much about the talent and the caliber of the chefs,” Hanks says. “We try to raise the bar every year in terms of the talent that we get. That’s why we have primarily restaurant chefs on the show. ... Then after that it’s personality. We want people who are going to be fun and lively, [but] it’s talent first, personality second.”
Still, at a casting call where the culinary content doesn’t extend past résumés and questions about cooking, personality is pretty important. And it can be difficult to determine whether someone who’s good in person is going to be good in front of a camera.
“You can think someone’s going to have a huge personality, and maybe they’re more serious in the kitchen, or you think they’re going to bring out the worst in others but they turn out to be incredibly affable,” Hanks says. “It’s such an intense situation that if they’re a professional and talented chef, they focus in on themselves. [But] because the cameras are around them all the time except that when they’re sleeping, they ultimately forget that they’re there and come as themselves.”
The show has featured a number of DFW chefs -- some still based here ( Tiffany Derry, Tre Wilcox, John Tesar, Danyele McPherson) and some who have moved on ( Casey Thompson, Joshua Valentine). Big metro area, big state -- but even so, reality-TV shows like Top Chef seem to have a disproportionate fondness for Texans (OK, Valentine was an Oklahoma transplant who was here briefly, but still ...)
“I think that specifically Dallas and Austin have some pretty incredible food,” Hanks says. “The chefs are thinking outside the box, they’re not just cooking steaks. Paul Qui was [season nine’s] winner, he cooks in Austin; Tiffany Derry and Tre Wilcox both did very well on the show when they were on. [Texas has] always been a source of incredible talent.”