When Paul Caravelli decided to apply to be a contestant on ABC's new show "The Taste," he wanted to show off his personality.
He sat down with his agent, had a beer and "filled it out like a Frenchman.
"I filled it out and was like, 'F-you, you're never going to pick me,'" Caravelli laughed. "Instead of censoring myself, I wrote it up like I was just talking to another chef. I showed them my personality."
It worked. Two days later, Caravelli, who is the executive chef at 545 North Bar & Grill in Libertyville, got the call.
"I was like, really? I didn't think I stood a chance," he said.
After a few phone interviews, Caravelli auditioned in Chicago. He had to answer some questions on camera, and he was told not to censor himself. One of the people at the audition "recognized me as the one who swore all over his application."
He also had to prepare a dish for a food taster to sample. Caravelli made halibut with a vinaigrette made of Rainier cherries. The whole audition experience was such a whirlwind. Caravelli described it as "the most exciting time of my life (that) I have a vague memory of."
Caravelli was selected to appear on the first audition episode of "The Taste," which aired Jan. 22. He had just an hour to create a dish that would then be presented to the judges—Anthony Bourdain, Ludo Lefevbre, Nigella Lawson and Brian Malarkey—as just a taste of food on a spoon. The chefs taste the food blindly, not knowing who prepared it.
"We hand-pick our teams based on one mouthful," Bourdain said in the premiere episode. The judges then mentor their teams throughout the competition.
Caravelli opted to make a pecan- and lemon-crusted Chilean sea bass. He also made artichokes wrapped in prosciutto. Malarkey said "it was just so much on one spoon" and opted to pass on choosing Caravelli for his team. Bourdain, too, decided to pass.
"I thought the dish tasted fine, but I'm afraid that's a no for me," Bourdain told Caravelli.
Lawson and Lefevbre felt differently.
"You really impressed me," Lefevbre said, adding that he "would love to have you on my team."
"I want pleasure, flavor, the joyousness—you've got it, and I want some of it," said Lawson.
It was then up to Caravelli to decide which mentor he'd prefer to work with. He chose Lefevbre.
"Paul, I'm very excited to work with you," Lefevbre said.
Caravelli said he wanted to make something that he wouldn't otherwise be able to create at a restaurant, given that the dish he created would be too expensive for many diners.
"This is a good time to play. It was the experience of a lifetime," said Caravelli.
Becoming a Chef
Working as a chef wasn't always Caravelli's dream. He wanted to be a professional hockey player, and he tried out for a bunch of teams after graduating high school.
"It didn't pan out," said Caravelli. "I went to all of these tryouts and ended up coming home without a team."
His parents and grandparents reminded him that he'd always loved to cook, so Caravelli ultimately decided to go to culinary school in Chicago. Though he was offered a spot on an NHL team after graduation, he passed it up.
He is enjoying the chance to get to meet and work with nationally-renowned chefs like Lawson, Lefevbre, Malarkey and Bourdain.
"He's awesome," Caravelli said of Bourdain, his idol. "Meeting him in person and seeing him on TV, it's the same person. That's the real him."
The Facts on "The Taste"
"The Taste" airs at 7 p.m. on Tuesdays on ABC. The winning contestant will take home an all-new 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid and $100,000 from Hellmann’s®/Best Foods.
Caravelli will be featured on the next episode, which will air Feb. 5.
You can watch the show at 545 North, per the restaurant's website: "Join us every Tuesday, starting Jan. 22 for the premier of ABC's, 'The Taste' featuring our own chef, Paul Caravelli. Let's see how far he gets!!!"