Simsbury chef Tyler Anderson swings for the fences on new season of ‘Top Chef’ Dec. 7
Updated 4:26 pm, Sunday, December 3, 2017
Tyler Anderson, the chef/owner of Millwright’s Restaurant and Tavern in Simsbury, isn’t shy about taking chances. He paired up with one of the busiest Hartford restaurateurs, Jamie “The Bear” McDonald of Bear’s Smokehouse, last year to open The Cook and The Bear in West Hartford, for one.
A few months before that, however, he was in Colorado filming the new season of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” which premieres Dec. 7 at 10 p.m. on the cable channel.
“It was even a better experience than I thought it would be,” said Anderson, chosen as one of 15 cast members from among chefs nationwide. “‘Top Chef’ is pretty widely known within our industry as always having the highest level of competitor involved.”
That level of competition inspired him to take chances in the opening episode, which we previewed and won’t spoil by divulging the results. But at one point during the first hour, Anderson says he’s in it “to hit home runs, not singles.”
Is that a risky approach on national TV?
“Yeah, I mean, that’s how I cook though,” he said in phone chat. “It’s inspired by the product, the moment. ... To me, it wasn’t about regurgitating things that I’ve done a million times. It was about creating something specific for that challenge.”
Anderson, who gets in his share of one-liners and asides during the first episode, also says on the show that he’s representing Connecticut.
“That was one of the main reasons I went on the show, because there have been so few competitors from small markets over the years,” he said, “... and none from the state of Connecticut. And there’s so many exciting things going on here in this state that I wanted to show that there are people in the state who can cook as well as those in New York, Boston, Chicago, L.A., those bigger markets.”
Anderson was born in California and worked in some of those larger markets, at restaurants and hotels. He fell in love with New England while working at The Equinox in Vermont. His love for Connecticut stemmed from taking a job at the Copper Beech Inn in Ivoryton after hearing that Jacques Pepin was involved in the hiring, he said.
Asked if “Top Chef” indulges in staged scenes and other “reality TV” tricks, Anderson said he first sought out input from previous competitors on the show.
“When you do these hours of interviews and stuff, you’re kind of worried about how they’ll spin you,” Anderson said. “But ‘Top Chef’ has a very good reputation for not creating stories and (instead) really telling the story in an honest way. ... It’s primarily about the cooking.”
The Emmy and James Beard Award-winning series in its 15th season follows 15 diverse chefs as they battle it out for the coveted title amid road-trip challenges and thriving culinary scenes in Denver, Boulder, Telluride and Aspen. Host Padma Lakshmi and head judge Tom Colicchio return to the judges table alongside Gail Simmons and Graham Elliot.
“We all got along really well, so that’s cool,” said Anderson of the other chefs. “But it’s exhausting, the show. There’s no way to prepare for it.”
Another competitor had a Fitbit, Anderson said, and in one day he logged 47,000 steps.
“The restaurant business is demanding, and I’ve been doing it for 25 years or so. But there’s nothing as demanding as this show,” he said.
With tattooed arms down to his knuckles and a quick wit, Anderson made an impression during audition meetings and in the opening episode.
“First and foremost, my goal is to always have fun. That’s why I’m in this business, because it’s fun. It is serious but in a fun way. The process was a lot of interviews and a lot of it is personality, probably, because when you’re doing a reality show, the strength and diversity of the cast ... can mean success for the show or not. You can’t just have a bunch of funny chuckleheads like me; you have to have some other people who bring things to the story.”