Prepare yourself for another season of quick-thinking, stressful and creative menu planning, and stiff culinary competition when Bravo’s “Top Chef” returns Wednesday.
Metro Detroiters will have their eyes on one chef in particular during the show’s 12th season: James Rigato of Howell. He’s been making waves in the local food scene with his innovative White Lake Township restaurant, Root Restaurant & Bar.
Rigato will be one of 16 chefs competing for the title of “Top Chef,” as well as other prizes, cash and opportunities along the way. Season 12, set in Boston, will show the chefs falling over each other to impress judges Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, Hugh Acheson and “Top Chef” season four finalist Richard Blais.
Rigato says he’s been a fan of the show since he was a teenager.
“I always looked up to the show and thought it was a good example of what’s going on in American food, kind of like the next generation of media chefs,” he says. “You have your big wigs, guys in the spotlight, and then you see ‘Top Chef,’ the underbelly of American talent.”
The hardest part of competing on the show, Rigato says, is not knowing what is coming next.
“You just kind of show up and wait for whatever the hell they’re going to throw at you. The element of surprise is challenging (as well as) being outside your comfort zone, new kitchen, new space, new people.”
Rigato’s comfort zone is his restaurant. While filming “Top Chef” in the spring, he left his business to his competent staff.
“It was a good chance for them to spread their wings and see how much they can do without me, and they did a really great job,” he says. “I was certainly nervous but confident.”
It will be interesting to see the competition between Rigato and Dearborn native Chef Mei Lin. Both studied at Schoolcraft College. Rigato says it’s good to have to Michigan representatives, though Lin is now a sous chef at Ink in Los Angeles. “She’s claiming L.A., but I don’t hear that.”
Other folks to watch out for this season are Rebecca LaMalfa, executive sous chef at Trencherman in Chicago, and Boston’s own Stacy Cogswell, executive chef at Regal Beagle.
“I fell in love with everybody on the show,” Rigato says. “It was a really cool group of people, and I think a lot are walking away as friends.”
As for the “Top Chef” judges, though, Rigato isn’t as enamored.
“I hate ’em all,” he jokes, when asked which was his favorite. “It’s pretty professional in there.”
Season 12 premiere
10 p.m. Wednesday
Besides getting a table at the Root Restaurant & Bar in White Lake Township, local diners will have two upcoming chances to try James Rigato’s cooking. He’ll be the guest chef at both of Hamtramck’s permanent pop-up restaurants, Revolver and Yemans Street.
Rigato will get creative on Nov. 7 at Revolver, 9737 Jos. Campau, where he’ll serve parts of animals that are not usually used in cooking. The four-course offal meal starts with an amuse-bouche (a single-bite appetizer) of liver mousse, followed by shaved beef heart, head cheese, buttermilk fried sweetbreads (organ meat) and foie gras and apple turnover for dessert. Seatings, $75 per person (plus gratuity), are at 6 and 9 p.m. Purchase in advance at www.revolverhamtramck.com.
On Nov. 21 at Yemans St., Rigato will offer a more familiar menu of seafood that includes house-cured lox, mussels, bay scallops and skate wing. The dinner starts with a bite of oysters with mignonette granita (a shallot and vinegar sauce) and ends with a dessert made with nori, mango, rice, raspberry and sea salt. The dinner is 7-10 p.m. and tickets, $75, can be purchased at yemansstreet.squarespace.com. This new pop-up, which hosted its first dinner about three weeks ago, is at 2995 Yemans.