Friday, March 9, 2018

And The Crowd Goes Wild

Photo from the Spiaggia Facebook page.

For the second consecutive Thursday, Spiaggia on Michigan Avenue rolled out the red carpet for family and friends of its Executive Chef (and my nephew) Joe Flamm as he edged closer to winning the Season 15 Top Chef competition on the Bravo channel. The March 1 event, held in the restaurant’s upstairs party room with free food and drinks, ended on a happy note as we watched Joe and Adrienne Cheatham on a big screen TV being selected to move on to the finale. (The latest season wrapped up months ago but the contestants have been sworn to secrecy as to its outcome.) Joe has been traveling the country promoting Top Chef with some of the other contestants but he was in house again last night.

I can only assume this was a bigger crowd than what you’d usually find at Spiaggia, but the staff was consistently friendly and on top of things. A DJ playing an energetic blend of urban contemporary and vintage new wave added some cutting edge ambience to the restaurant’s elegance. The overall mood was happy and anxious as relatives and old friends saw each other for the first time in a while. It was tough maneuvering through all those people and even more of a challenge to find somewhere to sit for watching the show once it came on.

Shortly before airtime, my wife Pam asked if I could get her a Coke, and as I made my way to the bar, I came face to face with Mustache Joe Sasto. He had joined my nephew in a Joe Down Throw Down event the previous night at Spiaggia.

“Joe, good to see you,” I said, feeling like we were friends since I had been watching him on TV for weeks.

“Nice to see you too,” he responded.

Three other former Season 15 Top Chef contestants—Bruce Kalman, Brother Luck, and Tyler Anderson—were also present. Joe, Bruce, and Tyler called themselves The Bears on Top Chef, and Joe’s mother presented each of them with a toy stuffed bear at Spiaggia. Things quieted down when the broadcast, shown across a huge, north-facing window and on a few big-screen TVs, came on.

It quickly became obvious both contestants would be giving their best as they each cooked a four-course meal. Judges Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, and Graham Elliott talked about Joe and Adrienne being neck and neck after each course was set before them. As the crowd at Spiaggia waited for the judges to announce their decision, I couldn’t help thinking both Joe and Adrienne had won, even though only one of them could be chosen.

When Padma informed the onscreen Joe he was Top Chef, the in-house Joe and his wife Hillary embraced as everyone around them cheered and applauded. Joe Sasto and Brother Luck also came over to hug Joe. Most of the crowd lingered long after the show ended. Pam and I had a chance to talk to Brother Luck and his wife, Joe Sasto and his girlfriend, and Bruce Kalman. They were all extremely friendly. (I didn’t see Tyler after the broadcast.)

In the end, I was most proud of my nephew Joe for meeting each challenge on Top Chef head on and always keeping his cool. That could also be said for most of this year’s contestants as they created an experience they’ll probably remember the rest of their lives.

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