‘Top Chef Wisconsin’ Premiere Cooks Up Excitement In Milwaukee

Food & Drink

The much-anticipated premiere of “Top Chef Wisconsin” took center stage in Milwaukee’s Discovery World this past Wednesday night. A sizable crowd of stakeholders and food enthusiasts were in attendance as the new season’s contestants were presented. More than just a competition, the show shined a light on the distinctive food scene of Wisconsin.

Alongside local and regional officials, Top Chef judges, hosts, and several cheftestants walked the red carpet and shared their experiences exploring the food culture in the Badger State.

Prior to the first episode’s screening, head judge Tom Colicchio, perennial judge Gail Simmons, and new host Kristen Kish participated in an open discussion alongside executive producer and showrunner Doneen Arquines. The Q&A was facilitated by Paul Bartolotta, a well-known Milwaukee restaurateur.

Local Officials Reflect on Impact

Peggy Williams-Smith, President & CEO of VISIT Milwaukee, was noticeably struck by the show’s significance for the city.

“I don’t think I realized the enormity of what it meant for us. I knew anecdotally what the impact could be. But being here and hearing the things that they said about the city, it’s clear that ‘Top Chef’ filming here is a major coup,” stated Williams-Smith.

Her remarks echo the moment Milwaukee was named one of the top 12 cities in the 2024 by Eater, an accolade echoed and broadcast further by Top Chef judges.

“She [Gail Simmons] retweeted when we were named one of the top 12 cities in the world by Eater magazine this year. She asked, ‘Do you think “Top Chef” has anything to do with that?’ And absolutely, that’s you all,” Williams-Smith added, acknowledging the show’s role in elevating Milwaukee’s prestige.

More than showcasing the city’s skylines, Williams-Smith shared that “Top Chef’s” filming in Milwaukee also was an opportunity to highlight the city’s cultural and ethnic diversity.

“We know that our heritage includes the ethnic diversity in our food. We embrace that you can find any type of authentic cuisine in the city, and I think that was important to the ‘Top Chef’ producers,” reflected Williams-Smith.

She celebrated Milwaukee as a city of immigrants, emphasizing the importance of these flavors being mirrored in the city’s cuisine as a symbol of its vibrancy and richness.

“We’ve always been a city of immigrants. Having all of those flavors reflected in the food we serve makes us a vibrant city. And this reflects positively on the state and the country,” she concluded.

Reality Television’s Impact on Tourism

The potential impact of “Top Chef: Wisconsin” on local tourism and the dining sector is not trivial. Arquines this impact during the Q&A discussion:

“I know for a fact that the show does impact tourism and we’ve heard from many tourism boards. A dining could speak about this but after the fact of like people going out, spending every minute, ‘Let’s go and check out these restaurants that were on Top Chef, let’s go check this out.’ So I do think that you will see an uptick for.” The premiere has already sparked interest in Wisconsin’s culinary establishments, and a surge in activity is anticipated as the season progresses.

The effects of television on tourist flows are well-documented. A 2022 study from the journal Empirical Economics underscored this by revealing a “positive and persistent impact” of the TV series “Game of Thrones” on tourism in its filming locations. This evidence suggests that television productions, like “Top Chef,” can significantly boost tourism.

‘Top Chef’ Judges Reflect on Wisconsin Food

During the premiere, Gail Simmons, a perennial judge on the show, praised Wisconsin’s food scene, stating: “Wisconsin is a dream. The people’s generosity is not an exaggeration. It’s like a state of people who genuinely love where they live and want to welcome you with open arms.”

She continued, “They’re known for their strong dairy and beer, but the food scene here is much more nuanced than the stereotypes. We had amazing Laotian food, amazing Serbian food—it’s not only about cheese and beer.”

Kristin Kish, the new host and a Midwest native who won season 10, shared her perspective on the season’s culinary focus, “Being a chef—or anyone who loves food—means we travel to learn about cultures and perspectives. Coming here was like exploring any new city, eager to learn what makes it special. The passion people have for where they live is inspiring, and I’m here to share that story too.”

Head judge and fellow chef Tom Colicchio shared the Wisconsin food tradition that left the strongest impression on him, “The fish boil surprised me! I’m watching these cooking methods that go against what every chef learns, yet they work beautifully. It was a reminder that there’s great food everywhere.”

The premiere of ‘Top Chef Wisconsin’ has set the stage for a season that will not only showcase Wisconsin’s culinary breadth but also immerse viewers in a comprehensive exploration of the state’s food culture—auguring well for tourism and local businesses as they turn a new page in Wisconsin’s culinary story.

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