Many people consider Chicago a foodie’s dream. With famous hometown dishes, like deep dish pizza and Chicago styled hot dogs, and a plethora of eateries, from Alinea and Longman & Eagle to Spiaggia, not to mention high caliber chefs, such as Rick Bayless, Charlie Trotter, and Stephanie Izzard that have planted their seeds in this town, it is no surprise that three contestants on Bravo‘s latest food programming venture, Nick Lacasse, John Vermiglio and Gary Walker, have roots in the Windy City.

When it comes to reality television, the Bravo television networkremains at the forefront following the lives of everyone from leading home designers to housewives living lavishly to an entrepreneurial matchmaker helping millionaires find love. In the spirit of one of the network’s flagship shows, Top Chef, Bravo’s newest addition to its reality family follows 12 chefs from around the country on a global adventure of mastering cuisine. With its debut on May 9, Around the World in 80 Plates, hosted by celebrity chefs Curtis Stone and Cat Cora, travels to 10 countries in 40 days with competing culinary pros vying for $150,000. Though the monetary prize is no doubt a prioritized incentive for the contestants, coming away with an immersion of a diverse set of cultures has the potential to be worth so much more.

The series premiere took viewers on a trip across the pond to London Town. The cooking contenders, essentially strangers, were asked to split into two groups, develop a team relationship, and begin their first challenge in a short amount of time.

Resembling a frantic wild goose chase from the start, the teams made visits to three popular London gastropubs — Drapers Arms, Duke of Cambridge, and The Camden Head — where they had to eat and drink their way through traditional English dishes they would later be put to the test to tackle and recreate.

The premise of the show revolves around the concept that the first team to finish the initial challenge of the game is given an advantage, “the exceptional ingredient,” to use during the main game challenge, where the teams take over a restaurant and put their own spin on time-honored meals. After all, what is hearty Italian pasta without a basic pomodoro sauce, or a Mexican enchilada packed with flavorful additions without its tortilla to nestle in? With London having been the focus of the first episode, the potato, a staple in English cuisine, starred as the exceptional ingredient; the ingredient which could only be used by one of the teams.

During a press conference call interview, moderated by Bravo press manager, Alana McElroy, with Stone and Cora, Stone commented on the chefs’ adaption to this particular obstacle throughout the series, conveying that he was intrigued by the chefs’ ease at which they adjusted to the novel and unexpected circumstances.

“I actually found it really interesting watching the contestants be told sometimes they got this exceptional ingredient, which, you know, made it much more obvious for them in terms of their thinking,” Stone said. “And, other times they were told they couldn’t use an ingredient.” He later revealed that he was impressed when the chefs showed their creativity under pressure.

The ingredients were not the only challenging thing for the chefs. Both Stone and Cora humorously discussed more out of the ordinary and colorful experiences, particularly during their time in Morocco and Thailand that involved some serious monkey business.

Cora said, “The very first show was really a big challenge for them. They’re trying to find their footing and the food in England, particularly this — the gastro pubs and this new style of food that’s happening in London at least, you know, it’s a little bit new to us, is — it was challenging for them.”

Upon thinking about shopping for spices during a market experience in Marrakesh, Morocco, Cora spoke of “dodging cobras and monkeys that jump on your head.” Multitasking at its best!

Argentina was another memorable experience, particularly resonant for Curtis as a chef. His amazement of seeing the matured skill in the Asador Argentine grilling style engrained in locals was something he would not soon forget. He was also reflective of the sights and tastes of Thailand.

“You walk through the streets in Thailand and you hear those mortar and pestles like a daily kind of ritual. You know, there’s the clunking of the ginger and ylang-ylang and chili peppers and all of those delicious spices that they sort of grind up. And then, they incorporate that through both their stir fries and all their curries…It is so good.”

All of the contestants on the show could not be more different from one another. Many of them have leadership roles in their normal day-to-day lives which made for an interesting team dynamic in the first episode. Now, watching the show unfold every week on television just like the normal audience, Lacasse, Vermiglio and Walker, wait on in anticipation on how the show will turn out.

“On the show, I’m really curious what to expect from me,” Lacasse said. “I remember thinking that I played pretty well with others, but alone in the interview room they put a camera in front of me and it was like I turned into MC Ren talking mad crap about anyone and anything. [I’m also a] little concerned my grandma may not be all that pleased with my language.”

Walker felt that the show was stressful and fun, at the same time; however, he regards himself as funny and expects to see lot of humor on his part. As for Vermiglio, the reality television experience was a lot harder for him than it looked.

“I had no idea what to expect when filming a reality television show, and after experiencing it, I don’t think I could have ever imagined all of the hard work that goes into making a great show. I never thought ‘reality’ could be so much work,” he said.

They all took some time away from the kitchen to give a taste of their journey to chefdom with GALO. Even with the vastly different personalities, the general consensus between the trio remains that any adventure calling for a combination of travel and food must be worthwhile.

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