Top Chef Comes to Colorado

Rich in homegrown ingredients, nationally recognized chefs and a strong maker culture, it's no wonder Bravo set its latest season of "Top Chef" in breathtaking (and delicious) destinations in Colorado, including DenverBoulderAspen and Telluride, and that Slow Food Nations chose Denver as its first festival celebrating "good, clean and fair food."

Episode guides below outline the special places visited on the show, as well as interviews, travel tips and articles. For fun facts on locations visited, read The Denver Post's "Ultimate 'Top Chef' tour of Colorado: Relive the Bravo hit at these locations."

Learn more about Colorado’s amazing culinary scene at and check out this interview with two local cheftestants.

Episode 1: Denver

The 15 cheftestants got their first taste of Colorado by throwing a block party on Denver's historic Larimer Square, where they highlighted the city's culinary renaissance from a meat-and-potatoes town to the home of chefs and restaurants that are taking food to a new level. For the challenge, they put their own spin on ... meat and potatoes! Keegan Gerhard of D Bar Denver, Hosea Rosenberg of Boulder's Blackbelly and Santo and Troy Guard of TAG Restaurant in Denver made appearances as guest tasters.

Places visited: 
Larimer Square

More to explore:
Read 5 Colorado Culinary Food Trends to Feed Current Cravings.
Read a Q&A with former "Top Chef" winner and Boulder chef, Hosea Rosenberg.
Check out this Denver: The Highlights itinerary
Discover the history of Union Station and all there is to see and do there.

A selection of dips and cheese spreads

Episode 2: Denver & Larkspur

With the field narrowed to 14, the cheftestants split into two teams for a Quickfire challenge involving a mise en place relay. Denver chef and restaurateur Troy Guard, whose restaurant group boasts 10-plus establishments in Colorado, joined host Padma Lakshmi for the judging. Later, Padma introduced chef Alex Seidel, who is known for bridging the gap between farm and consumer. He invited the group to Fruition Farms in Larkspur — the first artisanal sheep dairy and creamery in Colorado — which supplies fresh produce and cheeses for his restaurants, Fruition and Mercantile. The cheftestants were tasked with creating a progressive, four-course meal highlighting a different cheese from the farm’s creamery in each. Again working in two teams, they cooked and served at Mercantile inside Union Station, with Seidel and cheesemaker Jimmy Warren serving as guest judges. Hometown chef Carrie Baird of Bar Dough scored a win overall for her sheep’s milk ricotta and potato dumpling with butter sauce and hazelnut relish.

Places visited:
Fruition Farms
Union Station

More to explore:
• Discover things to see and do at Denver's Union Station.
• Read a Q&A with local chef and restaurateur Troy Guard.
• Find out what the 10 must-eat foods are in Colorado.
• Get chef Alex Seidel's take on living and cooking in Colorado.

People in the distance walking a trail toward Boulder's Flatirons

Episode 3: Boulder

The 13 cheftestants are challenged to a Sudden Death Quickfire based on deconstructing the iconic Denver omelet. James Beard award-winning Chef and “Top Chef Masters” alum Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson of Boulder’s MICHELIN-starred Frasca Food & Wine joined the judges in the tasting, and Brother Luck of Colorado SpringsFour by Brother Luck won with his smoked duck egg with red pepper gastrique, cheddar and ham tempura and pepper salad. Then, the chefs break up into teams of four to feed University of Colorado Boulder students in a food truck challenge at the foot of the Flatiron Mountains. Hosea Rosenberg of Boulder’s Blackbelly and Santo and winner of season five “Top Chef” joined in on the tasting and judging of the indulgent hangover food.

Places Visited:
Boulder, East Boulder Community Park

More to Explore:
Discover Colorado Farm Stays
Read Top Five Picnic Spots in Boulder
Check out a Q&A with a Colorado Star Chef: Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson

People dining at a packed and festive dinner table

Episode 4: Denver

For the Quickfire this week, the cheftestants had to update and elevate classic items from a traditional kids’ menu, using only child-size utensils and cookware. “Top Chef Junior” head judge Curtis Stone joined Padma to taste the dishes, along with a trio of pint-size judges: the kids of Denver chefs and restaurateurs. Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson’s daughter Lydia, Alex Seidel’s son Jack and Peter Karpinski’s daughter Nael showed off their discerning palates and proved the apple doesn’t fall far from the epicurean tree. For the elimination challenge, the focus was on digging into the group’s roots and heritage, inspired by a visit to food incubator Comal, which helps immigrant women turn their love for the food of their heritage into careers. A group of culinary influencers gathered at Departure Restaurant + Lounge in Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood for the meal, including former cheftestant Gregory Gourdet, who serves as Departure’s culinary director, and Denver chef Dana Rodriguez of Work & Class.

Places visited:
Comal Heritage Food Incubator
Departure Restaurant + Lounge in the Halcyon Hotel

More to explore:
Check out 12 Colorado food and beer pairings.
Read a Q&A with former cheftestant Gregory Gourdet.
Discover 8 things to do in Denver's Cherry Creek neighborhood.

Padma Lakshmi dining outside at a table with snow in the background

Episode 5: Estes Park

Armed with an armful native Colorado ingredients (from venison, bison, lamb and trout to dried cherries, sunchoke and crimini mushrooms) and camping equipment, the cheftestants are challenged to cook a five-star dish while camping in the snow after a surprise spring storm at Estes Park Campground at East Portal near Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park. They stopped at Estes Park Mountain Shop Outlet Store to pick up camp gear and outdoor cooking supplies, and are faced with tasks like pitching tents and prepping ingredients in the cold. Colorado wild boar was the star of the winning dish prepared by Bruce Kalman of Los Angeles’ UNION and Knead & Co. Pasta Bar + Market, who creatively shaped his egg yolk cavatelli with a mandolin board.

Places Visited:
Estes Park Mountain Shop Outlet Store
Estes Park Campground at East Portal near Rocky Mountain National Park and Estes Park

More to Explore:
Read the Colorado Culinary Camping Guide
Discover Get Outside: 10 Magical Moments on Colorado’s Public Lands
Learn more about Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado
Read Camping in Colorado: The Basics
Check out Glamping in Colorado: Camping with Beds & Other Perks

Sign with pint of beer saying "Top Chef German Festival"

Episode 6: Denver

Powering through a "camping hangover" from the last challenge, the cheftestants rallied to face their next Quickfire: Turn a time-consuming signature dish from their own menus into a 30-minute meal for the home cook, inspired by popular online Tasty videos. Former "Top Chef" contestant-turned-judge Richard Blaise, of Juniper & Ivy in California, was on hand to help Padma taste the dishes, and Colorado Springs chef Brother Luck landed in the top three for his speedy version of a paella. To introduce the elimination challenge, local chef Keegan Gerhard (D Bar Denver) discussed his German roots and brought the group to Rhein Haus to sip on radlers — a 50/50 mix of beer and fruit soda — and sample pork shank, duck proscuitto and other fare, in preparation of throwing a "Top Chef"-size German festival at Elitch Gardens Theme & Water Park, where they had to make an elevated German dish along with their own version of a radler for a crowd of 200 diners.

Places visited:
Rhein Haus
Elitch Gardens

More to explore:
Check out Colorado adventure and beer pairings.
Read a Q&A with "Top Chef" guest judge Keegan Gerhard.
Discover amusement parks in Colorado.

Padma Lakshmi talking to Top Chef contestants wearing Olympic-style medals

Episode 7: Denver

Padma and “Top Chef” season 14 winner Brooke Williamson of Los Angeles’ Hudson House surprise the cheftestants with an early morning Quickfire to make a mouthwatering breakfast dish featuring Nutella at their Capitol Hill house in Denver. Hometown chef Carrie Baird of Bar Dough scored a win overall for her sweet-and-savory eggs benedict with Nutella, strawberry habanero jam and hollandaise. Then, the chefs pick up ingredients at the Whole Foods in Denver’s Cherry Creek neighborhood to compete in the first-ever Top Chef Olympic Games. Three winter Olympians — ice-dancer Meryl Davis, slopestyle freeskier Gus Kenworthy and skeleton racer John Daly — help the judges score the cheftestants on precision, speed and creativity.

Places visited:
Whole Foods in Cherry Creek

More to explore:
Discover a Fresh Look at 6 Colorado Farmers' Markets
Read Colorado Athletes Strive for Olympic Glory This February
Check out Visit Denver’s “Top Chef” Recaps

Rows of tables in a restaurant set for a meal

Episode 8: Denver

Now down to eight cheftestants, this week's challenge could only be one thing: Restaurant Wars! A hallmark of every season of "Top Chef," Restaurant Wars sees two teams of four tasked with creating an entire pop-up restaurant for one evening. From developing a concept to menu planning and designing the space to cooking great food, every element of a real restaurant is expected — and evaluated. Foregoing a Quickfire, the chefs drew knives to see who would be the two leaders in charge of picking members of their respective teams. Denver chef Carrie Baird (Bar Dough) was one, along with Chris Scott from Brooklyn. Her team named their restaurant Conifer, a nod to the evergreen trees that dot Colorado's landscape. Denver company Craftsy lent their expertise in transforming the side-by-side spaces at event venue Mile High Station into separate, full-fledge eateries, but Carrie's team was ultimately victorious in their efforts.

Places visited:
Mile High Station

More to explore:
Beer, wine or spirits? Read up on the battle for Colorado's official drink.
Check out Visit Denver's "Top Chef" coverage.
Discover amazing repurposed spaces in Colorado.

People watching a speaker at a baseball stadium

Episode 9: Denver

At the start of the show, Denver chef Carrie Baird (Bar Dough) concocts a fancy toast with lavender, fig, goat cheese and candied pecans that impresses the judges in a Sudden Death Quickfire featuring edible flowers. In the next challenge, the cheftestants break into teams of two to create an elevated pre-game dish for an epic Super Bowl tailgating party with the Denver Broncos for 300 hungry football players and fans at Mile High Stadium. Guests and judges include Denver Mayor Michael Hancock; Denver Broncos Brandon Mcmanus, T.J. Ward and Bradley Roby; and Jennifer Jasinski — chef and owner of Denver’s Rioja, Bistro Vendome and Stoic & Genuine. Chef Carrie teams up with chef Chris Scott, of Brooklyn’s Butterfunk Kitchen, and the pair make the winning dish: Colorado pork green chile poutine with stadium fries.

Places visited:
Mile High Stadium

More to explore:
Learn more about Pro Sports in Colorado
Read a Q&A with Colorado’s Local ‘Top Chef’ Judge Jennifer Jasinski
Discover 12 Months of Colorado Dining
Check out Visit Denver’s “Top Chef” Recaps

Top Chef judges at a dining table with plates in front of them

Episode 10: Estes Park & Denver

For the last Quickfire before the finals begin, the five remaining chefs venture to the Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, famous for being the location that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining. To pay homage to the spookiness that King and his wife encountered during their one-night stay in room 217, the cheftestants have to create a dessert that visualizes their worst nightmare on the plate. Heading back to Denver for the final elimination challenge before the group moves on to Telluride, Padma asks the chefs to create a dish that reflects on their "Top Chef" journey so far. To add to the pressure, the meal is served at the Governor's Residence, with Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and his wife, Robin, joining the judges, along with esteemed local chefs Frank Bonanno (Mizuna), Tommy Lee (Hop Alley) and Steve Redzikowski (Acorn). We couldn't help but notice the governor chose to pair his meal with a beer rather than wine — opting for a local pour, no doubt. In fact, Hickenlooper was a brewer himself before landing the top job in the state.

Places visited:
The Stanley Hotel
Governor's Residence at Boettcher Mansion

More to explore:
Check out Colorado's hot spots for ghost hunters
Find romantic getaways at historic hotels in Colorado
Learn about the Colorado State Capitol building

Top Chef contestants cooking in the middle of the road in downtown Telluride with the mountains in the background

Episode 11: Telluride

The cheftestants say farewell to Denver and head to Telluride, where they compete in a Quickfire featuring the saloon medicinal beverage, sarsaparilla, at the historic New Sheridan Bar. Armed with limited ingredients, they cook on Telluride’s Main Street, and Denver chef Carrie Baird (Bar Dough) creates the winning dish: a French onion-soup-inspired toast with sarsaparilla deglazed onions and beef stock. Then, the chefs are faced with the challenges of cooking at high altitude at Alpino Vino, the highest-elevation restaurant in North America at 11,966 feet, where they must whip up a dish that includes a baked element. 

Places Visited 
New Sheridan Bar
Telluride’s historic downtown area
Gondola to Mountain Village
Alpino Vino

More to Explore
Discover Mountain-Top Dining in Colorado
Find 5 Hidden Fine Dining Gems
Check out Fun Apres-Ski Spots in Colorado 

Colorado Top Chef finalists stand in black aprons with the San Juan mountains in the background

Episode 12: Telluride

The final four cheftestants take on Rocky Mountain oysters (no, not the kind that come from the ocean) for this week's Quickfire, preparing them two ways at an outdoor-cooking setup high in the mountains surrounding Telluride. Brothers Bryan and Michael Voltaggio — who previously competed against each other on "Top Chef: Las Vegas" — are on hand to help Padma determine who made the most appetizing dish with this offal ingredient. Then, the group takes a scenic drive up to the Observatory at Alta Lakes, where a surprise awaits them inside: a member of each of their families! After an emotional reunion, everyone shares a family-style meal that the visitors cooked — and in turn is the source of the Elimination Challenge. In order to move on to the finals in Aspen, the chefs must take inspiration from their family member's dish and elevate it to showcase where they are now in their own evolution, prepping and serving at former cheftestant Eliza Gavin's restaurant, 221 South Oak

Places visited:
Alta Lakes Observatory
221 South Oak

More to explore:
Read a Q&A with former cheftestant Eliza Gavin
Venture to Colorado's ghost towns
Spend a postcard-perfect day in Telluride
10 beautiful places in Colorado you didn't know about

Padma Lakshmi wears a cowboy hat and stands in front of a table of Colorado produce

Episode 13: Aspen

The three final cheftestants journey to Aspen, where the final Quickfire of the season at T-Lazy-7 Ranch involves one of Colorado’s signature outdoor pursuits — fly-fishing — and preparing a dish with a fresh catch. Then, they must win over the likes of the who’s who of the culinary world by hosting an event for 200 guests at the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen. But there’s an additional obstacle: The chefs must only feature a vegetarian dish cooked in a cowboy caldron with just smoke and fire. Just a few celebrity event attendees include “Top Chef: Charleston” winner Brooke Williamson, “Top Chef: Las Vegas” competitors Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, and multi-time James Beard Award winner Daniel Boulud, who helps the judges choose the two finalists.
Places Visited:
T-Lazy-7 Ranch


Aspen Gondolas

Episode 14: Aspen

For the final episode, it all comes down to a culinary face-off between Joe Flamm, executive chef of Spiaggia in Chicago, and Adrienne Cheatham, who previously worked at New York City's Le Bernardin for eight years. After beating out 14 other cheftestants to earn their place in the finale, the two meet Padma and Tom at the top of Aspen Mountain to get the instructions for the challenge: Cook the best meal of your life through a four-course, progressive meal. They also enlist the help of two sous chefs each from the pool of eliminated cheftestants, including Colorado chef Carrie Baird (Bar Dough in Denver), who joins Adrienne in the kitchen. Pouring their hearts and souls into the meal — served side-by-side at the Aspen Mountain Club at The Little Nell to culinary superstars like Nancy Silverton, Jonathan Waxman and Curtis Duffy — it's one of the closest competitions yet, with Joe ultimately crowned "Top Chef" at judges' table.

Places visited:
Aspen Mountain Club at The Little Nell

More to explore:
Get lifted with 6 Stunning Gondola-Accessed Views in Colorado
Read up on Summer Food & Wine Festivals
Check out 10 Ways to Experience Aspen in the Summer
Find 7 Only-in-Colorado Places to Stay