Who will be the next Top Chef?

On March 28, the 2nd annual Top Chef: Downtown competition will be a live version of what all of us merely witness on Bravo.  Iowa City’s top chefs and bartenders will be exhibiting their culinary talent and mixologist wizardry from 5 to 7 p.m. at Hotel Vetro, 201 S. Linn St.

Tickets are $25 which secures a sampling of tasty offerings from local chefs and bartenders.  No annoying commercials.  No suspenseful music.  No backstage drama.  Just food and drinks!  Plus,  how often can you eat at several of the best downtown restaurants simultaneously and enjoy a few nice cocktails for $25?

Half of the ticket price helps out the  The Downtown Iowa City Self Supported Municipal Improvement District (SSMID), with such events as this while the other half goes to  Make A Change With Your Change, an organization which collects donations from the vivid purple “meters” throughout downtown.  Proceeds go toward human service agencies for food, medical care, transportation and other services.

Nick Arnold, one of the coordinators for Top Chef: Downtown, was inspired by the Bravo show to put the wheels in motion to give this an event an Iowa City twist.

“Our organization here in downtown Iowa City really put the whole thing together.  We’re lucky downtown to have so many restaurants and chefs who do an incredible job,” Arnold said. “One way to celebrate that is to set up a fun little event like this.”

By its name, Top Chef: Downtown has a geographical limit.  Any restaurants or bars north of Burlington  and south of Bloomington, from the east side of the Iowa River to Gilbert Street are included.

Although this event will be the talk of the town, don’t expect it to be on the internet via webcast or PATV.

“It would be hard [to broadcast] because there’s not really a central location where the chefs are preparing their fare” Arnold muses. “Each has a station that they work at, so guests can’ make their way through and matriculate through the ballroom and get their samples.”

The participating culinary heroes will prepare a sample-size portion of a signature dish for guests of the event, as well as six presentation plates for the panel of judges. Chefs provide their own ingredients and are allowed to prep whatever they need prior to their arrival at Hotel Vetro.  Each Chef is permitted one assistant to help them during the competition and their only time constraint is the time of the event.

Chef Hicham Chehouani of Crepes de Luxe Cafe will be competing at Top Chef: Downtown

In addition to chefs, bartenders will compete for the title of Top Bartender by serving up their most unique cocktail.  Bartenders will serve two ounce sample portions of their concoctions in hopes of securing the title.

This year, there will be an added beverage sampling option.  Four Iowa microbreweries will be offering samples and advice on which beers pair well with the food.  The participating breweries are: Peacetree, Toppling Goliath, Backpocket and John’s Grocery.

The number of contributing chefs increased from last year’s eight  to twelve for this year.

Chefs from Crepes de Luxe Café, Devotay, Formosa, Givanni’s, Graze, Joseph’s, Saloon, Share, Short’s, Summit, Takanami and University of Iowa Executive Chef Barry Greenberg will be creating delectable dishes at the competition.  And bartenders from Brothers, Devotay, Graze, Motley Cow Café, Pints, Saloon, Share and Summit will be inventing intoxicating beverages.

A People’s Choice award, voted on by all guests in attendance, will be presented to one chef and one bartender.  In conclusion there will be a brief presentation to award the winner with a trophy and the title of Top Chef.

The panel of judges will consist of area chefs and local experts and celebrity.  Nate Kaeding, Hawkeye football legend and NFL kicker for the San Diego Chargers was a guest judge last year.

“The focus isn’t on who wins, the focus is just to showcase your food and to have fun with it.  I think most of the chefs understand that they’re there just to show their skills and have a good time,” Arnold said. “Winning is kind of icing on the cake.”

Last year, David Wiesenek, of Motley Cow Café, won the Top Chef title with a house-cured, Grass Run Farm pastrami on pumpernickel pear mostardo. Chris Lago, of Share Wine Lounge, won Top Bartender with a sangria jello-shot.

Top Chef:Downtown is sponsored by the The Downtown Iowa City Self Supported Municipal Improvement District and Hotel Vetro. Tickets for this event are sold out, but you can join a waiting list by contacting Nick Arnold at

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