Feature Story

Under the Hollywood Sign, Some Savory Signs of Fortitude

  • Josh Lurie of Food GPS with emmy magazine editor Gail Polevoi.

  • Chef Chad White

  • Top Chef on location

  • Top Chef judges confer

A culinary salute to the Golden State, season 13 of Bravo’s Top Chef staged its first elimination challenge in the Hollywood Hills — directly under the iconic Hollywood sign.

Emmy editor Gail Polevoi was among a select group of food and entertainment journalists at the taping, which united 17 cheftestants from across the country as well as host Padma Lakshmi and judges Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons and Emeril Lagasse.

On an uncharacteristically chilly spring morning, the chefs took their places under white tents and cloudy skies to serve their signature creations to a crowd of 200. The journalists joined the judges and other guests in sampling all the dishes — and dishing about the samples.

From this L.A. debut, only 16 would move on for the chance to battle in San Diego, Palm Springs, San Francisco and Oakland for the Top Chef title.

This season’s competitors include one southern Californian, Chad White, a transplant from Spokane, Washington, to San Diego.

White has a ready smile and a scruffy red beard. At 34, he is chef-owner of Comun Taqueria in San Diego’s East Village, La Justina in Tijuana, Mexico, and Mexico & Craft Pizza in La Jolla, California.

Though trained in classic French and Mediterranean cuisine, he fell in love with Mexico and specializes in an eclectic urban cuisine with a south-of-the-border influence.

White’s background — he’s a military veteran — is a bit out of the ordinary for a Top Chef cheftestant. “I joined the Navy after 9/11,” he recounted, while offering small plates of his spicy fish cake with grasshopper at the elimination challenge. “I served on Navy submarines.”

His decision to incorporate dried grasshopper in his dish was not so unusual, from a global perspective. An estimated 2 billion people worldwide regularly consume insects; White purchases his in Mexico.

Top Chef debuts Wednesday, December 2 at 10 p.m., with part two airing December 3. For more on White, his fellow cheftestants and their culinary styles, go to Top Chef.