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Four Locals Make the Cast of Top Chef: Chicago

Filmed in the Windy City, the fourth season of Top Chef will kick off on March 12. From what we can surmise from the press materials, the format of the show will mirror previous effots, and the judges—Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons and Ted Allen—predictably remain the same as well. So what's new? Aside from a simply radiant batch of promo photos (pictured), four San Francisco chefs will be among the 16 new contestants jumping through culinary hoops:

· Erik Hopfinger, 38, Executive Chef at Circa
· Jennifer Biesty, 35, Executive Chef at Coco500
· Ryan Scott, 28, Chef at Myth Cafe
· Zoi Antonitsas, 30, Chef/Restaurant Consultant

Anyone with further details about our local foursome faction is very much encouraged to share. For now, here are the full bios of the sweet 16:

AGE: 30
HOMETOWN: Fort Lauderdale, FL – currently resides in New York City
CULINARY EDUCATION: A.S. Culinary Arts, Johnson & Wales, North Miami
FAVORITE SIMPLE SUMMER RECIPE: Diced strawberries, mango, tomato, cucumber, and jicama. Thai dressing (sugar, lime juice, fish sauce and siracha). Thai basil and mint chiffonade. For the past two years, Andrew has studied everything from the French cuisine of Raymond Blanc to the molecular gastronomy of Ferran Adria. With food influences that range from African, Spanish, French and Thai to Vietnamese, Japanese, Latino and Indian, Andrew prides himself on being diverse in the kitchen. When Andrew isn’t working, you can find him researching cuisines at a bookstore or shopping for spices that are uncommon and of multicultural influences to adapt to his cuisine. He believes in translating the flavors and techniques from different cultures into innovative interpretations that do not stray far from their origins. His goal is to leave a legacy like the chefs before his time, which shaped him and his fellow chefs minds and refined their techniques. He says he doesn’t make food for mere sustenance, but to create an experience that impacts the soul.

AGE: 31
HOMETOWN: Los Angeles, CA
PROFESSION: Executive Chef, Foxtail, SBE Restaurant Group
CULINARY EDUCATION: French Culinary Institute
FAVORITE SIMPLE SPRING RECIPE: Baby beets with bouchon goat cheese and marcona almonds

Antonia worked for executive chef Lee Hefter at Spago restaurant for six years and is now Executive Chef at the popular L.A. restaurant Foxtail. A single mother living in Los Angeles with her 7-year-old daughter, Antonia comes from an Italian background and says fresh linguine with white truffle is her favorite thing to cook. She always has aged balsamic and extra virgin olive oil on hand, and root beer floats with her daughter are her favorite indulgence.

AGE: 29
HOME TOWN: Chicago, Il
PROFESSION: Sous Chef at Buddakan
CULINARY EDUCATION: Culinary Institute Of America
FAVORITE SIMPLE SPRING RECIPE: Grilled matsutake mushrooms, shaved myoga, spicy truffled ponzu

Dale, a sous chef at Buddakan, one of New York’s hottest restaurants, was born and raised in Chicago, where he helped open the renowned restaurant Jean Georges Vong. In Chicago, Dale worked with distinguished chefs like Carrie Nahabedian and Shawn Mcclain. With his Filipino background, Dale focuses on Asian flavors. “I love the balance that Asian cuisine offers the salty, sweet, bitter and sour and the textures it provides for different experiences in every bite.” One of Dale’s kitchen favorites is a dry aged kobe rib eye. Dale says cooking meats is one of his favorite things to do in the kitchen and the technique that goes into properly searing and basting a rack of lamb or steak shows a lot of love. A motto that drives Dale is “expect perfection , because if you fall short your left with greatness.”

AGE: 38
HOMETOWN: Chappaqua, NY – currently resides in San Francisco, CA
PROFESSION: Executive Chef at Circa Restaurant
FAVORITE SPRING RECIPE: Spring lamb with fresh spring garlic

A third generation chef, Erik gets his love of cooking from his grandfather and mother, who are both chefs. He worked his way through the ranks of several New York City restaurants before becoming sous chef at Eros and then Tapas Lounge. He eventually tired of the cold and decided to move to California, where he now works as executive chef at Circa Restaurant in San Francisco. He says his favorite thing to cook is Circa’s popular pan-seared Chilean Sea Bass with wild chanterelle, truffles and caramelized leek ragout.

AGE: 35
HOMETOWN: Brooklyn, NY – currently resides in San Francisco, CA
PROFESSION: Executive Chef COCO500 Restaurant
FAVORITE SIMPLE SPRING RECIPE: Spring Lamb’s tongue salad, sauce Dragnocello, Mache, olive oil croutons, and mustard fruit

Born in Brooklyn, NY and trained in classic French and Mediterranean cuisine, Jennifer believes in cooking for the season and stimulating the palette. She has lived and worked in both Paris and London and always tries to incorporate French, Italian and Spanish influences in her cooking. Jennifer is currently working as an executive chef at the popular San Francisco restaurant, COCO500, but says if she could cook anywhere in the world it would be Cinque Terre, Italy.

AGE: 27
HOMETOWN: Toronto, Canada – currently resides in New York City
CULINARY EDUCATION: A.A.S. culinary arts, B.S. food service management Johnson & Wales University
FAVORITE SIMPLE SPRING RECIPE: Chili rubbed lamb with strawberry-rhubarb jam, balsamic reduction and fresh mint
Being drawn to the flavors of Asian cuisine since a young age, Lisa moved to New York City where she decided food was her passion and career choice. At only 17, she attended Johnson & Wales University and received a B.S. in foodservice management. She moved to south Florida to diversify her cooking palette, absorbing the local flair of Latin food. With Asian cuisine still in her heart, Lisa moved back to New York to get involved with more Asian restaurants, working at Asia de Cuba, Rain and then Public. Lisa says she always exercises Asian flair in her dishes and has taught herself as much as she can about the cuisine. Lisa hopes to open an Asian influenced restaurant in New York in the years to come.
AGE: 33
HOMETOWN: Laredo, Texas – currently resides in New York, NY
PROFESSION: Executive Chef, Dos Caminos
CULINARY EDUCATION: B.A. in Business Administration from St. Mary's University of San Antonio, Texas; A.O.S, New England Culinary Institute, Montpelier, Vermont
FAVORITE SIMPLE SPRING RECIPE: Crispy soft shell crabs with charred ramp vinaigrette

As executive chef of Dos Caminos Third Avenue, Manuel brings authentic Mexican fare to the heart of Midtown in New York City. Growing up in the border town of Laredo, Texas and influenced by his Mexican heritage, Manuel began cooking at an early age and has never stopped. Manuel was classically French trained at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont. After moving up the ranks from Garde Manger to Tournant at New York's Le Cirque 2000, he then worked with executive chef Mario Batali at Babbo Restaurant where he quickly rose to sous chef. Manuel believes that it is always good to inject new ideas and stir things up.

AGE: 29
HOMETOWN: Invercargill, New Zealand – currently resides in New York, NY
PROFESSION: Sous Chef at Public Restaurant in New York City
FAVORITE SIMPLE SPRING RECIPE: Roast New Zealand venison, minted edamame, wee fella Yorkshire pudding and espresso hollandaise.

Born and raised on a sheep farm in New Zealand, Mark developed a great appreciation for cooking from scratch. After leaving school at the age of 16, he went to work at a slaughterhouse before leaving New Zealand to travel the world. Over the past eight years, Mark has worked his way up the kitchen ladder from dishwasher to sous chef and has worked in New Zealand, Melbourne, Tokyo, and New York.

AGE: 35
HOMETOWN: New York, New York
PROFESSION: Chef / co-owner – 24 Prince
CULINARY EDUCATION: A.O.S Culinary Arts, School of Culinary Arts
FAVORITE SIMPLE SPRING RECIPE: Fresh English peas with shallot, grape tomatoes, pecorino cheese and fresh mint

Nikki operates 24 Prince Restaurant in New York City as the chef and co-owner. Trained for many years in back of house and in front of house operations with great chefs like Jean-Georges, Shaun Doty and Anne Quatrano, Nikki believes a great chef must understand how to run a business as well as possess outstanding cooking skills. She is also a certified sommelier with extensive wine knowledge. Nikki loves not being restricted to any one particular cuisine and experiments with flavors and ingredients from all over the world. She considers growing up in New York to be the best culinary education one can obtain and says her family and friends constantly tease her about how passionate she is about food. Her future plans are to expand her restaurant group with several new concepts.

AGE: 26
HOMETOWN: Peachtree City, GA – currently resides in Atlanta, GA
PROFESSION: Chef at Repast
CULINARY EDUCATION: Culinary Institute Of America
FAVORITE SPRING RECIPE: Grilled freshly caught fish with some amazing olive oil and sea salt

A native of Peachtree City, GA., Nimma earned her culinary degree from the Culinary Institute of America and is currently working as a chef at Repast restaurant in Atlanta. Her favorite thing to cook is pasta and she says she always has salt, pepper, green tea, coffee, and butter on hand.

AGE: 35
HOMETOWN: Uniondale, New York – currently resides in Atlanta, GA
PROFESSION: Chef, culinary designer, Trail-Blais
FAVORITE SIMPLE SPRING RECIPE: Lamb meatballs with rhubarb & strawberry

Richard is not only a chef, but also a culinary designer, working all over the east coast. He and his wife reside in Atlanta, Georgia with their two weimaraners and are expecting their first child in the spring. He is known for his innovative and personal take on classical cuisine and has studied under luminaries such as Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Ferran Adria. Richard believes cooking is an art and a craft and food is meant to stimulate on many levels. He incorporates global ingredients, modern cooking methods, wit and a sense of humor to all his food. He says if he were a food he would be an artichoke. "It's tough, difficult to work with, even dangerous at its core; but when you come down to it, it’s simple, beautiful and delicious."

AGE: 28
HOMETOWN: Los Banos, CA – currently resides in San Francisco, CA
PROFESSION: Chef, Myth Cafe
CULINARY EDUCATION: Associate of Arts, California Culinary Academy
FAVORITE SIMPLE SPRING RECIPE: Chilled spring pea soup with Strauss yogurt and dill cucumbers

Ryan zeroed in on his desire to be a chef at the early age of nine when the “toys” at the top of his Christmas list included kitchen utensils, a wok and food dehydrator. Growing up in the Central Valley of California he developed a passion for the culinary arts that has led to a very successful career spanning both coasts. His talent for creating simple, healthy and delicious Mediterranean and French-influenced cuisine draws long lines and wide acclaim at Myth Café in San Francisco, where he has been chef since 2005. Ryan strongly believes in “giving back” as much as possible and works extensively with Bay Area community organizations. This fall, he led a team of over 30 volunteers in his first “Thanksgiving Bag Lunch Giveaway,” which involved creating 1,000 bag lunches for people in need – from scratch.

AGE: 27
HOMETOWN: Clearwater Beach, FL - currently resides in Williamsburg, NY
PROFESSION: Chef de Cuisine, Mai House, Drew Nieporent
FAVORITE SIMPLE SPRING RECIPE: Lamb or Pig. A good Greek SPOOL lamb (salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon) on a spit.

Spike works as the chef de cuisine at Tribeca’s new hotspot restaurant, MAi-House, which was named as one of the New York Times’ top ten best restaurants. Born in Montreal, Canada and trained in classic French cuisine in restaurants around the world, Spike has worked with Gerard Boyer at Les Crayeres, Thomas Keller at Bouchon and The Maccioni Family at Le Cirque and at Good Stuff Eatery in Washington D.C. Spike believes in learning the basics to become the best. His latest venture is opening a new chain, Good Stuff Eatery, with his family. The new restaurant features his weakness – hamburgers, hot dogs, fries and milkshakes.

AGE: 31
HOMETOWN: Stamford, CT – currently resides in Chicago, IL
CULINARY EDUCATION: University of Michigan (undergrad); Scottsdale Culinary Institute
FAVORITE SIMPLE SPRING RECIPE: Anything with green garlic such as gnocchi with clams, white asparagus and green garlic

Until recently, Stephanie was the chef/owner of Scylla in Chicago. She is now enjoying traveling, both domestically and abroad, while planning her next exciting venture. Stephanie’s biggest lure in cooking is seafood because the same fish can be cooked so many different ways – grilled, poached, cured, pan roasted – and this brings out different attributes, flavors and textures. Stephanie says in her cooking, contrasting and complementary elements are essential, but balance is non-negotiable. She has always been very driven and a bit of a risk-taker. "Once I set my mind to something, I follow through. It always has to be 110%."

AGE: 32
PROFESSION: Personal Chef
CULINARY EDUCATION: Culinary Arts, Kendall College, Chicago

Born and raised in Chicago, Valerie has worked her way around popular Chicago restaurants for the past nine years and is currently working as a personal chef in her native city. Valerie has a passion for traveling and loves to incorporate influences from all over the world in her cooking. She believes food is the most universal part of life and enjoys cooking cuisine with elegance and simplicity.

AGE: 30
HOMETOWN: Seattle, WA – currently resides in San Francisco, CA
PROFESSION: Chef/Restaurant Consultant
FAVORITE SIMPLE SPRING RECIPE: Roasted baby California lamb with artichokes, spring onions, lemon and rosemary

A restaurant consultant living in San Francisco, Zoi began cooking at the age of 19 and has worked with some of the greatest chefs on the West Coast. After traveling extensively through Europe, she believes her food reflects her love of Greece and Italy. Zoi describes her cooking as simple and rustic and emphasizes the importance of using local, seasonal ingredients whenever possible.

· Top Chef Returns [Bravo]