The pressure is on for Stacy Cogswell.
This week the Regal Beagle chef will be on millions of TV screens when the 12th season of Top Chef premieres on Wednesday, October 15 at 10 PM on Bravo. This is the Boston-set season of "Top Chef," so Cogswell is repping the home team. Does that add any intimidation?
"There's never any home field advantage, but I definitely put some extra pressure on myself," Cogswell tells Zagat. "You don't want to make your hometown look like a joke!"
There's little chance of that, though don't expect Cogswell to be the cutthroat kind of competitor. "I'm kind of a ham, and I try to not take myself too seriously," says Cogswell of how she approached the show. "Ultimately, I cook because it's fun for me. So when I find that I stop having fun, that's when I need to step back a bit."
Though this will be the first time our city is spotlighted in its full, glamorous glory, Boston has been represented on the Top Chef franchise several times throughout the years. We've gathered below some of the restaurants to hit if you'd like a taste tour of eateries with ties to the show. But first, a few more thoughts from Cogswell on her upcoming small-screen debut:
On advice from other Boston alums: "I had coffee with [Season 10 winner] Kristen Kish, just to get some really good advice on what to expect after Top Chef airs. As a chef, I'm used to planning everything ahead of time, and to not be able to do that is hard! Kristen is an amazing, beautiful person, and one thing that stuck with me is when she told me, 'Ride the wave, Stacy. Go with the flow. You can't plan for everything.'"
On future plans: "I'd definitely like to open my own restaurant. But I see myself as being young in my career, even though I've been in it for 15 years. I still have a lot to do and learn. So No. 1 on my list is travel: seeing new places, trying new cuisines. Hopefully that door opens up for me. Otherwise, I just want to keep learning and perfecting what I do."
On some headline-grabbing reports that Boston Teamsters harassed the Top Chef crew: "I don't really know what happened, and I don't want to comment on some of the things that are said to have happened. But I'll say this: all the stuff that's out there in cyber-land and newspaper-land, I've read it. And if it's true, it sucks that would happen. Because I would think that people from Boston — you know, we're a very classy city. Yeah, most of us have trash mouths and an accent. But we're really a very classy city. So if that did happen, it's really disappointing."
Her favorite spots to eat right now: "No. 1 on the list is Fairsted Kitchen. I love those guys — they're amazing! Liquid Art House has beautiful, delicious food. The level of art on the plate is fantastic. And I actually really love a big, delicious bowl from Totto Ramen!"
On where she's going to watch the Top Chef season premiere: "Easy. I'm going to be on my couch with a glass of wine. And my phone off."
Just give her a show, already! (No, seriously. Please?) Tiffani Faison has appeared on the Top Chef franchise three times. She placed runner-up in the very first season. She returned for the eighth season's All-Stars lineup. And earlier this week she placed runner-up (again — so close!) on the inaugural season of Top Chef Duels. The final dish she prepared? The heavenly biscuits from this Fenway-side barbecue restaurant, which we recently named among the 11 Dishes to Eat to Call Yourself a Bostonian. Like Faison, they've become a Hub food-scene icon.
Michael Schlow is among Boston's best-known chefs, and he represented our city on the first season of Top Chef Masters. His iconic Radius is no longer around, but you can still dine on upscale Italian at his Via Matta, a decade-running institution of Park Square.
Schlow has opened several eateries since his Top Chef Masters appearance. Some didn't pan out: neither the quirky comfort food of Happy's or the casual Mexican of its replacement, Barrio Cantina, could carve out a niche near Fenway. But his upscale Back Bay eatery Tico is still going strong with its Pan-Latin approach, yielding plentiful small plates like this signature mac 'n' cheese ($10) with ham and manchego. In fact, he just opened a second Tico location in Washington, DC. (He also has a trio of Alta Strada restaurants in his empire, and a recently debuted West Coast venture, Cavatina.)
She didn't take home the win on the second season of Top Chef Masters, but Jody Adams has an even better reason to celebrate right now. This Fall marks the 20th anniversary of her Harvard Square hit for upscale Italian. In a cutthroat restaurant biz, that's a major triumph.
About a year after her Masters season, Adams opened this Atlantic Wharf eatery, which tends to buzz with sharply dressed after-work crowds. Here are two reasons to be among them: a country apple tart that is one of the 9 New Must-Try Apple Dishes For Fall, and a cocktail courtesy of Tenzin Conechok Samdo, one of 9 Bartenders You Need to Know. Fill out a super-quick questionnaire about favorite adjectives ("smoky," "herbal," "dry," etc.) and he'll improvise a drink that suits your tastes through the spot's "TRADECreates" program.
Adams wasn't the only Cantabrigian competing on the second season of Top Chef Masters. She was joined by Ana Sortun, whose Oleana has long been a favorite for its flavorful Turkish and Eastern Mediterranean cuisine. (Its oasislike patio has some of the area's most coveted outdoor seats.) Sortun is still going strong: Oleana was Zagat surveyors' third-place pick for the city's best restaurants. Check out our Taste Tour and visit with Sortun below.
More recently, Sortun has spread her wings to Somerville. Sarma focuses on meyhane and meze, plus a killer cocktail selection. (And to grab some quick sweets, don't forget about her Sofra Bakery.)
This culinary power couple appeared together on the fourth season of Top Chef Masters. At the time, they were best known for their trailblazing farm-to-table restaurant Arrows in Ogunquit. Sadly, it closed last year. (They still have M.C. Perkins Cove just around the bend, though.) But now they're a lot closer to Bostonians, having opened their Italian eatery M.C. Spiedo, inspired by Renaissance-era cookery, earlier this year.
Expect reservations to suddenly skyrocket at this Brookline eatery for upscale comfort food, now that chef Stacy Cogswell will be starring on the new Boston-set season of Top Chef. And expect some tweaks to the menu too. "Now that I'm on Top Chef, people are coming in and expecting more," explains Cogswell. "That's great, because now I'm able to elevate the food. It's been a neighborhood place doing really delicious food, but now we're able to take it up to the next level."
You won't find Top Chef alums in the kitchen right now, but devout fans may still want to swing by these related restaurants.
Menton. She continues to pop up in a number of projects, but we last reliably saw Season 10 winner Kristen Kish as chef de cuisine at Barbara Lynch's ultrachic, very expensive prix fixe restaurant in Fort Point.
Moksa. Top Chef Masters Season Four contestant Patricia Yeo opened this Central Square Pan-Asian as her final act in Boston. She has since moved to Chicago, where Yeo is now the creative director for the Chinese/Thai chain Big Bowl.
No. 9 Park. After competing against her fellow Lynch-land alum in Top Chef Season 10, Stephanie Cmar returned for the 11th installment. At the time, she was sous-chef at this Beacon Hill icon. Now you'll find her as one-half of Party of Two, a roving pop-up that combines her Stacked Donuts with the similarly sweet start-up Trademark Tarts.
Steel & Rye. Aside from Plimouth Plantation and Fenway Park, few shooting locations for the Boston-set season of Top Chef have been revealed. But all the reports of the union brouhaha has clued us in that this Milton restaurant will serve as at least one of the restaurant settings.