Vail Local on Top Chef

For Vail chef Kelly Liken, competing on TV's “Top Chef” show was a bit like having a restaurant critic sitting in her dining room, judging every bite of her food.

“I felt the pressure the most in the challenges and during the judging,” Liken said during a phone interview. “When you have a critic or a reporter in your restaurant, that's pressure. You want to put your best foot forward and you don't always get the best review, but that's part of what makes you better, but you're not used to dealing with that every day.”

That constant judgment was the hardest part of being on “Top Chef,” Liken said.

The seventh season of the show, which is set in Washington D.C., premiers Wednesday at 7 p.m. on Bravo. While Liken will be watching from home with a few friends, Restaurant Kelly Liken is hosting a viewing party from 6 to 8 p.m.

Liken is one of 17 “cheftestants” competing for the $125,000 prize. She was “encouraged” to apply for the show, she said, and found out she was chosen as a contestant in early March.  She is now one of the top 3 remaining.

“You don't have a whole lot of time to prepare,” she said. “All of a sudden you're looking at your cooking and your job in a totally different light.”

While Liken normally spends a significant amount of time managing the business side of the restaurant, on top of creating menus and her work in the kitchen, for the show she focused entirely on the cooking side of her job.

“I got back behind the line and started working every station in my kitchen,” she said.

Along with sharpening her prep skills and working on being faster, she started researching past seasons of the show, as well as various cuisines from around the world.

“I really had no idea what to expect, and that's sort of the idea,” she said.

Liken's involvement on the show was announced in mid-May, just a week after her appearance on “Iron Chef America,” where she went head to head against Iron Chef Jose Garces in “battle blue cheese.” She lost the competition by five points.

Many of the culinary students at Colorado Mountain College were rooting for Liken, said Todd Rymer, director of culinary education at Colorado Mountain College.

“A lot of the students here really enjoy the cooking shows, so it was exciting for them to see someone local on a national show,” Rymer said. “That psyched them up.

“It's great to have one of our local chefs be showcased on a national TV show.”

During each week's “Top Chef” episode, the chefs participate in two challenges — a quick-fire challenge and an elimination challenge. A guest chef usually judges the quick-fire challenge, while a handful of regular judges pick apart the contestants after the elimination challenge, which is “designed to test the versatility and inventiveness of the chefs as they take on unique culinary trials such as working with unusual and exotic foods or catering for a range of demanding clients,” according to a Bravo press release. “The challenges not only test their skills in the kitchen, but also uncover if they have the customer service, management and teamwork abilities required of a Top Chef. The competing chefs live and breathe the high-pressure lifestyle that comes with being a master chef.”

Cookbook author and actress Padma Lakshmi hosts the show, and presides over the judge's table alongside head judge Tom Colicchio, recent James Beard Award-winner and chef/owner of Craft Restaurants, and judge Gail Simmons of Food & Wine magazine. Joining the series as a regular guest judge is Eric Ripert, award-winning chef and owner of the acclaimed Le Bernardin restaurant in New York City, the 15th-ranked best restaurant in the world.

“The challenges featured will be some of the most creative and inventive yet: The chefs take over the concession stands at the (Washington) Nationals stadium, go inside the CIA's closely guarded headquarters and literally receive out of this world direction on one challenge from a NASA astronaut orbiting Earth,” according to the press release.

Though Liken couldn't talk specifically about what she did on the show, she did have this to say:

“There were plenty of times when the challenge set out to me was exactly that — challenging. Anyone who watches the show sees that they like to put twists and turns in and season sevem is no different.”

*Dean Johnson Management is well-known for managing the finest Beaver Creek luxury rental vacation homes. Specializing in Beaver Creek vacation rentals since 1983, guests have come to appreciate the honesty and integrity associated with Dean Johnson and his fine staff.

**Article compliments of the Vail Daily.