It’s increasingly a foodie’s world out there as the popularity of TV shows focused on cooking and culinary skills has ballooned over the last decade-plus. Among the most popular offerings has been Bravo Media’s long-running “Top Chef” program, with its spirited chef competitions.
The Emmy- and James Beard Award-winning program has produced plenty of great dishes by the creative culinarians who have participated in it over the years, and concessions company Spectra decided to take advantage of both the popularity of the show and of the trend toward upscale foods at sports venues generally with a creative new concept.
That concept is Top Chef Quickfire, a food station at SeatGeek Stadium, home of Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire in Bridgeview, Ill., where Spectra operates concessions. Spectra worked with Bravo Media to perfect the menu, which showcases an array of dishes from the show’s 15 previous seasons.
The station made its debut on June 30 last year in a section of the stadium that was dormant with an underperforming burger stand, and it has been open during home games for the Fire as well as other major stadium events since.
Menu items rotate seasonally at Top Chef Quickfire, showcasing an array of dishes from the show’s previous 15 seasons. The kickoff menu was inspired by various past “cheftestants,” including Chicago native and Top Chef Season 15 winner Joe Flamm, along with Carrie Baird (also Season 15), Chris Scott (Season 15), John Tesar (Season 14), Dale Talde (Season 8), Radhika Desai (Season 5), Spike Mendelsohn (Season 4), Tre Wilcox (Season 3), Cliff Crooks (Season 2), and Top Chef Season 1 winner Harold Dieterle.
The launch menu included:
- Beef Ribeye Skewer with crimini mushrooms, roasted asparagus, shallots and demi glaze inspired by Flamm;
- Kebab Sausage With Tomato Aioli using lamb, pork and beef sausage with tandoori masala, garlic and cucumber; there was also a vegetarian version made with Impossible Foods meat substitute, with both versions inspired by Desai;
- Spice-Rubbed Chicken Sandwich made with chicken thighs dry-rubbed with coriander, star anise and cracked peppercorns, inspired by Wilcox;
- Cucumber Salad made with pineapple and jalapeno, inspired by Mendelsohn;
- Pork Green Chili Poutine with Stadium Fries, inspired by Baird and Scott;
- Onion Rings with Sriracha Ketchup, inspired by Dieterle and Tesar; and
- Marshmallow and Cookie Ice Cream, made with vanilla bean ice cream with swirls of marshmallow, cookie crumbles and almonds, inspired by Crooks.
Spectra had originally approached Bravo with the idea a couple of years ago, says Scott Swiger, Spectra’s vice president of culinary. “They were already into seasons 13 and 14, so there were a ton of recipes and dishes to pull from, and we thought it would be really cool to bring those things you see on the show to [our] guests.”
The move was a challenge for Bravo, Swiger concedes, because while Bravo has showcased some of its dishes at food festivals and other limited engagement events, this would be the first extended foray.
“It was a bit of a risk for them because they had never done something like this before, to put the brand out there like this, so they wanted to have a strong comfort level with us,” he remarks.
Spectra worked with Bravo for several months to design the stand and perfect the menu because not everything created on the show adapts to serving in a food station environment, not to mention that a lot of what goes on is improvised.
Three tastings were conducted by Spectra’s culinary team to perfect recipes and gain the approval of Bravo Media’s team of executives.
SeatGeek Stadium was selected for the experiment for several reasons, Swiger says. For one thing, as the relationship was fairly new, Spectra was still in the process of refreshing some of the existing stands, so there would be a place for a new concept.
“Also, Chicago’s just a great food market and has been a great market for Bravo,” he adds.
Being such a premium concept, Top Chef Quickfire is obviously not the most trafficked food station at SeatGeek, but it does generate anywhere from 65 to 150 or so covers a typical event, and can even go as high as 600 covers, such as occurred at the recent Chicago Open Air Rock Fest, when dishes from Chicago’s own Rick Bayless—who recently had been featured on Top Chef Masters—got great participation.
“Every Chicagoan loves a great hamburger, so we did really well,” quips Therese Maloney, general manager for Spectra at SeatGeek.
The stand does rotate some dishes while others are staples due to their popularity. Typically, about a half dozen different selections are offered at a time.
“The fans who go to the location want to see something new and they can’t wait to see what we do next,” Maloney observes. “The problem is that once a show airs, we then have to do the back research and collaborate with Bravo to get that recipe exact.”
The stand is usually open to all attendees, but recently it has more and more often been reserved by various groups
“There has been a high demand [as the Fire’s season has progressed] for group sales where people just want to book it privately and create a space within a space and have their own private Bravo Top Chef party,” says Maloney. “The food’s becoming entertainment now as well. It’s not just a soccer game, but a food experience as well.”
And it’s not just during events. The station has also become a popular catered event space even when nothing is going on.
Spectra is currently looking at taking the concept to other venues where it operates, perhaps later this year.