Two Things About Going To Top Chef Restaurants

My wife and I have watched 11 seasons of Top Chef, beginning with season four and continuing in an unbroken streak through season 15. We’ve lived in southern California and Chicago during that time, which has allowed us to actually visit the restaurants of several of the contestants. We pick one out, then save for weeks to pay for it as a birthday or anniversary dinner. It’s our nerdy little tradition.

We did it again yesterday, and in-between the pasta and meat courses we tried to recall every Top Chef contestant restaurant we’ve been to and decide which was our favorite (we settled on nine).

Two things about this hobby of ours.

  1. I always feel like I don’t belong. The food is always so meticulous and the service so fussy. The clientele is always so attractive, sometimes even famous. I spend the whole meal feeling like an imposter, like some Joe who snuck in through the alley door left open by the sous chef on her smoke break.
  2. I usually end up embarrassed at the way in which I clearly belong in these places. Everybody there looks like me. Everybody but the staff, that is. I looked around the dining room last night and could not deny the obvious, that there wasn’t a single person of color seated at a table.

You can’t have it both ways, can you? You can’t both cling to an outsider’s inferiority complex and enjoy the spoils of the insider’s privilege at the same time. If you’re there, you’re not that different than everybody else who is there. You inhabit a space that lots of other people simply can’t, for reasons that are not hard to discover.

Let that bother you. Enjoy the beurre blanc, but let that bother you.