In the era of reality TV shows, the "Top Chef" brand has been successful mostly due to people's love for food and for the art in food. To see highly skilled men and women showcasing their talents in the kitchen can be transfixing to a certain extent. Who knew grandma's meatloaf could be transformed into a sensorial delight?
It is well known that Latino chefs, especially from Mexico, are among the most heralded and acclaimed in the world. They are seen as adding flair, piquancy, regional complexity and innovation to dishes few palates can resist.
It is also why there is a certain level of anticipation to see NBC Universo's new show "Top Chef Mexico", a spinoff from the original series, but with a group of rising Mexican culinary talents. NBC Universo, a Spanish language cable channel owned by our parent company NBCUniversal, will debut the program this Thursday, February 18 at 9 p.m.
Mexican actress Ana Claudia Talancón, who has been seen in several Hollywood films such as "One Missed Call" and "Fast Food Nation", will host along with judges Guillermo González Beristáin, Aquiles Chávez, Martha Ortíz and Juantxo Sánchez, all world-renowned chefs.
The judges will evaluate sixteen contestants based on four elements: talent, intelligence, technique and luck. Throughout thirteen episodes, chefs will either stick around or be eliminated until one is elected the winner of "Top Chef Mexico," with a cash prize of $1,000,000 Mexican pesos and a feature in Travel & Leisure Mexico.
There have been previous incarnations of the show using Latino celebrities, such as musicians and actors. The real attraction, though, lies in seeing professional Mexican chefs outdoing each other and captivating us with their art exhibited through food.
NBC Latino spoke to host Ana Claudia Talancón and judge Guillermo González Beristáin in New York City about the show and what viewers can expect.
How does Top Chef Mexico differ from the original Top Chef?
Ana Claudia Talancón: "The mastermind behind all this, our director, and the people that advise him, have created different challenges that are harder, that of course involve Mexican ingredients which are extremely diverse… The contestants just have to go through hell sometimes!
Guillermo González Beristáin: "Some of the locations were done outside of Mexico City and show how different Mexico can be. A lot of the locations were in very rustic conditions. And the locations that were done in Mexico City, they were not all done in the studio; they were done in museums, open air markets, streets, monuments.
So I think that people can enjoy the show, not only because of the cooking but because of the cultural content of it. In addition, people think that we only have one type of Mexican food but if you travel to Yucatán, its completely different to the food in Sonora or Oaxaca. So I think the show shows the complexity and diversity of Mexican food and Mexican people."
How did you become involved with this project?
Ana Claudia: "I got involved through the director of the show, he's a director of films in Mexico; I worked with him before. I watched the show in English -many times for many years - and I always loved it. As soon as I heard about having an opportunity to showcase Mexico in a different way, to show a different side of Mexico, that is not violent, that has beautiful colors and delicious food… I didn't think about it twice."
Guillermo: "I was invited by one of the executive producers of the show. He told me about the project about three years ago and immediately I was very interested because I've known the American version of the show and really respect what they've done. Doing this in Mexico is an amazing experience for me."
Tell us about the contestants. Are they famous chefs or small business owners?
Ana Claudia: "We have very professional, amazing chefs that are contestants. Most of them have their own restaurants and are settled, recognized chefs in Mexico. That gives the show a different level completely; the gastronomic level is very high. It makes it all more interesting and the competition is just harder and harder."
Guillermo: "And they are also contestants from all over Mexico, from the North to the South, and there's also a couple that live in the U.S."
With the success of Bravo's Top Chef, do you hope that English-speaking viewers will tune in to the show?
Ana Claudia: "If your grandparents are Mexican, you can relate through the roots of the show, through the food, through the traditions and find yourself and get to know yourself too.
But people who have no clue of that can definitely get to know a different side of Mexico that they haven't seen. I personally love shows that change the lives of people that go through the show. And even if you don't like to cook, I think you should watch just for the story of these people who are going through different stages of their lives through the show. The way they evolve and grow is amazing."
Guillermo: "Food is an universal language and I think people, even if they are not Mexican or are not Latin, they can relate, they can learn, and they can enjoy a show about food."
Are contestants going to be working on traditional dishes or more modern ones?
Ana Claudia: "Both! Super modern and super traditional, from A to Z and all in between!
What are you most excited about for this season of 'Top Chef Mexico'?
Ana Claudia: "For me, the food, I get to try it all. My mouth waters just thinking about it."
Guillermo: "For me, it's to show U.S. viewers a different Mexico. Much of the news that we get in the U.S. is not what's really happening in Mexico, we have very good things in our country and I'm very proud to be Mexican.
It's much more good news than bad news for sure and hopefully we can show that to people that watch the show."
Daniela Franco contributed to this report.