Aaron Cushieri worked at several area res taurants, including Ferndale's Assaggi Bistro. (Justin Stephens / Bravo)
As Bravo rolls out season 11 of its Emmy Award-winning cooking competition show “Top Chef,” keep an eye on Livonia native Aaron Cuschieri.
The 29-year-old executive chef at Slurping Turtle in Chicago learned to cook at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Michigan in Novi. He worked at a handful of area restaurants, most notably Assaggi Bistro in Ferndale.
“It’s a beautiful restaurant,” says Cuschieri, who started as sous chef at Assaggi and later was promoted to head chef. “You sit on the patio in the middle of summer and you feel like you’re in France.”
Cuschieri felt, though, if he wanted to cook in the big leagues he had to leave Detroit, so he moved to Chicago to cook in the kitchen of world-renowned Alinea in 2011. Soon after, he took a position at Slurping Turtle, where he works under the wing of mentor Takashi Yagihashi, who appeared on “Top Chef Masters” last year.
On tonight’s “Top Chef” season premiere, viewers will not only see Cuschieri put his skills to the test, but how he handles competition and the critiques of “Top Chef” judges Tom Colicchio and Emeril Lagasse.
In that episode, contestants will cook with turtle, frog or alligator meat in their New Orleans setting for a large group of hungry locals. They get two hours to prep in the kitchen and two hours to cook on site the following day.
“They told us we were going to be cooking in a swamp,” says Cuschieri . “Then we get to the spot where we’re actually cooking and there’s an alligator three feet away from us.
“It’s crazy. Everything you see on TV is actually happening: the sweating, us running and doing everything as quickly as possible. It’s real emotion and it’s actually happening. When they say go, you go.”
Cuschieri faces tough competition.
The other 18 contestants include confident 27-year-old Jason Cichonski (named “Philly’s sexiest chef”), Sara Johannes, who has served as executive chef at two Wolfgang Puck restaurants, and Chicago-based chef Carlos Gaytan, owner of Mexique.
10 p.m. Wednesday