The Bay Area is on a roll. Michelin-starred Douglas Keane -- from Healdsburg's now-shuttered Cyrus -- won "Top Chef Masters" last week. San Francisco's Chris Cosentino won that particular toque last year. Now Louis Maldonado, the Antioch-born chef at Healdsburg's Spoonbar, is competing on the newest iteration of "Top Chef," which launched this week.
No pressure, chef.
Season 11 is set in New Orleans, a city known for its gastronomic delights -- and home to judge Emeril Lagasse and many of this season's celebrated guest judges, including Paul Prudhomme and John Besh. But Maldonado brings significant cred of his own. His résumé boasts the kind of star-studded entries most chefs only dream of, including stints at Yountville's French Laundry and San Francisco's One Market and Cortez, where his culinary vision earned a Michelin star in 2006.
Most chefs tell tales of childhood obsessions with boeuf bourguinon, or of youthful afternoons spent watching Julia Child on TV. Not the laconic Maldonado.
Naturally, we had questions -- and we'll be curious to see if he's as unruffled and quiet on the show as he was answering our seven quick ones here.
Q So what prompted your life's work?
A I was 20, and my dad was pushing me to figure my life out. My grandparents met another set of grandparents whose kid was in culinary school, so I did it -- I did it on a crazy whim. I thought, OK, I'm going to do this.
Q What tempted you to try TV?
A I was at a position where I could do this. I have an amazing sous chef, really supportive management. (The experience) was extremely surreal, very 'I can't believe I'm here!' It was pretty humbling.
Q What did the Spoonbar crew think of you doing "Top Chef"?
A None of my guys has watched the show. (Laughs) I think they're going to watch this year. Everyone will have notes. I'm planning to disappear.
Q Did you do any Quickfire rehearsals or anything else to prepare for the competition?
A I'm very hands-on in the kitchen. I do my paperwork between 1 and 3 in the morning, so it wasn't like I needed to.
Q The new season is set in New Orleans, of course. Had you been there before?
Q Did you get to enjoy the city?
Q Now that it's all behind you, how do you feel? Are you worried about how you'll be portrayed?
A I have two successful restaurants. I am who I am. I didn't want to pretend to be anything. I was true to myself and to where I came from -- my restaurants, my family, my grandparents.
Top Chef, Season 11
This time around, "Top Chef" takes the action to New Orleans, where NOLA native Emeril Lagasse joins Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons, Hugh Acheson and Padma Lakshmi at the judges' table. The series airs Wednesday evenings at 10 p.m. with multiple repeats throughout the week. Get the episode guide and check out "Last Chance Kitchen," the Web series that gives losing chefs a chance at redemption, at www.bravotv.com/top-chef.