If you haven’t heard the news—or this news, or that newsTop Chef Season 21 was filmed in Wisconsin. Each season, the popular Bravo cooking show goes to a different city or state to film the competition and learn about local cuisine and food culture. It’s been a good few years for Milwaukee’s dining scene—and the news is getting out.

Earlier this year, Eater ranked Milwaukee as one of 2024’s hottest dining cities. In January it was announced that Wisconsin had a slew of James Beard Awards nominees like Gregory León of Amilinda, and top chefs from Odd Duck, EsterEv, and Birch. Hosting Top Chef was just the (Door County) cherry on top of an awesome run for Milwaukee and Wisconsin dining establishments.

Early trailers showed plenty of midwestern shenanigans including the lighting of a Door County fish boil, racing with the racing sausages at AmFam Field, hopping in a cranberry bog, and more. This season even features our city’s beloved Dan Jacobs, chef and co-owner of EsterEv & Dandan—and plenty of other connections to the dairy state (more on that later).

Here’s the setup if you aren’t familiar: Fifteen chefs are chosen from across the country to compete in the show. During each episode the chefs do a slew of cooking tests (quick fire challenges! immunity challenges! elimination challenges!) and slowly get eliminated after judging from hosts Gail Simmons, Tom Colicchio, and newest host (and midwest native) Kristen Kish.

Last night, Bravo premiered the first episode of the new season and it was a sight to behold for lovers of Milwaukee. Here are a few of our favorite MKE moments caught on tape.

Opinions About Milwaukee

Milwaukee may not have been on the radar for some of the contestants in Season 21. At the beginning of the show when contestants were driving to a grocery store, contestant Charly Pierre asked, “How did ya’ll feel when they said the show would be in Milwaukee?” After a few blank stares from other chefs, contestant Kenny Nguyen responded, “I was down, I feel every city has something to give.”

Chef Dan Jacobs showed up for Milwaukee, though. While he was driving he told the contestants just how “real” that “midwest nice” is. Some of the contestants had some preconceived notion of what Wisconsin food is. “The food here is cheese, it’s beer, and it’s meat and potatoes, but I mean that in a good way,” said contestant Kaleena Bliss. While she’s not wrong, they’re going to explore a lot more that the city has to offer. In the words of restaurateur and Episode 1 guest judge Paul Bartolotta: “We’re super excited to showcase our city and our region. We’re honored you’re here.”

Plenty of Sweeping Views of Milwaukee

Top Chef showrunners would be remiss to miss the tons of b-roll opportunities around Milwaukee. In the first episode alone we saw lots of aerial shots of downtown, boats and kayaks going down the river, and clips of the Milwaukee Public Market and other sites in the Third Ward.

The hosts introduced the season on the lake near Discovery World and Harbor House. The world-renowned Calatrava was front and center. Our humble Hoan Bridge even got some screen time.

Milwaukee Hot Spots

A few Milwaukee hot spots were introduced in this first episode. Before any of the competitions began, the contestants relaxed and got to know each other at the Blu Bar on the 23rd floor of the Pfister Hotel. They enjoyed drinks with a view as they learned about each others’ specialities.

The biggest location for the shoot of the first episode was Lupi & Iris, one of the top ten 10 finalists as best new U.S. restaurant by the James Beard Awards. The entire cooking competition took place in the restaurant’s open kitchen. We got to see snippets of the beautiful new space while the contestants cooked and the judges watched on.

Honorable mention goes to the North Avenue Whole Foods, an arguable “hot spot” where the contestants shopped for their ingredients ahead of the competition.

Local Celebrities

Chef Dan Jacobs is representing MKE on the contestants’ side, but other city celebrities popped up in Episode 1, too. Paul Bartolotta and Lupi & Iris owner/chef Adam Siegel were guest judges on the first episode. They lent their culinary expertise while judging the three competitions which included a soup course, a spin on a roasted chicken, and a stuffed pasta challenge.

Chef Jacobs was in the soup challenge, and while he didn’t win top favorite (that honor went to Chef Manny Barella and his pozole), his dish was loved by the judges. He created a tomato and fennel broth soup that he said was to honor the Mediterranean roots of judges Bartolotta and Siegel. “Every bite presented something new to me, the seasoning was incredible,” Simmons said about Jacobs’ soup. Siegel chimed in with, “The seasoning was incredible, and one of the most important things with soup is making sure it’s seasoned properly.”

Other Wisconsin Tidbits

Judge Gail Simmons fell in love with frozen custard during her time in Milwaukee. “We were shooting in the middle of summer and our new host Kristen and I went for frozen custard several times a week,” Simmons said. “It is delicious. I would argue that it is better than soft serve. It is the richest, most decadent, delicious ice cream I’ve ever had.”

Milwaukee Top Chef lovers crowdsourced and tracked the production through the streets of Milwaukee and Madison during filming.

Wisconsinites are intense about Wisconsin (shocker). Top Chef executive producer Doneen Arquines told the CapTimes: “This is a Wisconsin thing. This has not happened to us. In New York, there was a lot of buzz, but this is another level.”

A Wisconsinite lobbied for the show to visit Wisconsin. Wisconsin native and senior vice president of production for Top Chef Patrick Schmedeman fought for years for the show to be filmed in the dairy state.

New episodes of Top Chef will be released Wednesday nights on Bravo. Episodes can be streamed on Peacock or Bravo TV the following day.

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About The Author

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Carmella is a local copywriter. When she's not typing behind the computer, you can catch her at a local show or thrift store.