Around the world with Jenna Johansen
May 9, 2012
A few years back, when Vail chef Kelly Liken was competing in Top Chef season 7, I pulled up a barstool at Dish in Edwards and asked the then-exec chef Jenna Johansen when she’d score her own show. Liken was, after all, one of Johansen’s best friends and the two women are a rarity in a valley where mostly men chefs run the show. Plus on top of being a creative and talented chef, Johansen is friendly and very likeable. Well, today is the day. Johansen is one of 12 chefs competing on Bravo’s new show “Around the World in 80 Plates,” which premieres May 9 at 8 p.m. Hosted by food experts Curtis Stone and Cat Cora, the show is the network’s most ambitious production to date, according to the press release. It follows 12 chefs competing in a race over 40 days and across 10 countries including Argentina, China, England, France, Italy, Morocco, Spain, Thailand, United States and Uruguay. Johansen started talking to Bravo in August of 2011, submitted an application and, by the end of September, left to begin filming, she said. It was a tough secret to keep, but made easier by one thing. “When you can’t tell anyone, not even one person, it’s a little bit easier,” said Johansen, who now lives in Denver with her fiance Mark DeNittis. Though she’s no longer part of the day-to-day operations of Dish (Veronica Morales is the exec chef), she is still a co-owner. “I told people I’d been traveling, which wasn’t a lie. And I’m a bad lier, so it was easy for me to say that.”The first episode, which premieres tonight, was filmed in London. And it wasn’t until she got to England that Johansen got the full scoop about the show, and met the show’s hosts, Cat Cora and Curtis Stone.”I didn’t know till London the premise of the show or what the prize was going to be, or the rules,” she said. In London, the “competing chefs race in a pub crawl to win the ‘exceptional ingredient,’ but tensions rise quickly for one team as they unsuccessfully navigate the confusing streets of London,” according to the press release. “Then each team must take over a gastropub to serve up authentic dishes to Nigella Lawson who serves as this week’s Food Ambassador to help the British locals choose a favorite restaurant.”While participating in the show was a lot of pressure for Johansen, she said it was very much worth it. “I enjoyed the challenge,” she said. “It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done in my whole life.” Testing more than cooking skillsSome people are under the misguided impression that the show is like Top Chef, just set around the world, Johansen said, but that’s not so. “It’s a really different premise in the terms that it’s a lot more adventure, a lot more of the race and a lot of teamwork,” she said. “You get a chance to see a little more of people’s personalities – who they are, what kind of food they love – and it’s a different challenge not cooking in the same kitchen all the time, but cooking in a different kitchen, in a different country, where you might not speak the language. “It tests a lot more skills than just cooking,” she continued. As for Johansen, she’s been busy since filming ended, whenever that was. We’ll have to watch to find out. She is teaching cooking classes, doing some personal chefing and is doing a few “pop up dinners” in Denver, the next ones being at Studio F, a combination cooking school/event space in Lodo in Denver on May 10, 11 and 12. Johansen spends plenty of time in front of the computer, writing posts for her new blog with DeNittis, http://www.thelastthingweate.com and she’s also a member of FIVE, a group of talented Denver chefs that includes Tyler Wiard of Elway’s Cherry Creek and Top Chef season 5 winner and owner of Blackbelly Catering, Hosea Rosenberg, among others, who cook for charity events as well as at some big-name upcoming events at Aspen Food & Wine Classic and at the celebrated James Beard House.”FIVE is something created to celebrate the great food we have in Colorado,” Johansen said. And while Johansen is quite happy with her new, completely different life, she’s a bit nostalgic. “I do miss a lot of the wonderful people up in Vail,” she said. “It’s been a strange thing not to be there.”But the lure of new adventures proved too great.”There’s a milion things that could happen,” she said. “Maybe I’ll do my own restaurant down here, maybe I’ll get my own show. Who knows what will happen.”High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.