'Top Chef' Road Tour Uses Facebook to "Geo-Target"

By Lauren K. Terry May 30, 2012, 12:52 PM EDT

A live cooking demo took place under a tent, which came in handy on the rainy day.

Photo: Lauren K. Terry for BizBash

Bravo's Top Chef: The Tour
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Some 120 foodies gathered beneath a tent protruding from an 18-wheeler truck in Faneuil Hall May 22 and 23 to witness the Boston stop of Top Chef: The Tour. Boston was the third stop on the six-week, 15-city tour, which offers four live cooking demos led by former Top Chef contestants.

Featured on this leg were Hosea Rosenberg, winner of Top Chef’s fifth season, and Tiffani Faison, who appeared on seasons one and eight of the show and owns local barbecue spot Sweet Cheeks.

The event saw the celebrity chefs squaring off in a face-to-face cooking competition, a new twist for the five-year-old promotion, which previously only included cooking demonstrations. Based on the “Quickfire” challenges that chefs participate in on the show, Rosenberg and Faison were given 10 minutes to complete a dish from start to finish. It immediately was judged by local restaurateurs, chefs, and audience members. For their dishes, the chefs had to choose from 10 ingredients and could add a so-called “secret ingredient” they had brought with them. Rosenberg's secret ingredient was bread; Faison's was soy lecithin.

The main ingredient for each dish, however, was chosen by Top Chef fans, who voiced their opinions through the show’s Facebook page. Fred Haug, the event's host and M.C, said that the aim of the tour is to give fans the opportunity to “meet the chefs and taste the food that they can only see on television. We … ask our fans in each city to vote on the main ingredient to be used in the challenge. So, in each city, we geo-target on Facebook.” Boston Facebook fans chose—what else?—clams as the main ingredient.

After the 10-minute cooking period, judges chowed down on Faison’s traditional steamed clam dish and Rosenberg’s less-than-traditional deep-fried clam battered in polenta on clam toast. Faison was declared the winner, and audience members got the opportunity to sample the chefs' offerings.

According to Haug, letting the fans choose the main ingredient not only creates a more personalized experience city-to-city, but also helps promote the tour through other social media channels. Haug uses his Top Chef Twitter handle and hashtag to keep score of the challenges and announce the winners after each demo.

Further promotional measures included broadcasting around 125 television spots on channels other than Bravo, and Bravo ran national spots to drive fans to the tour’s Web site. Tickets to the show were released online two weeks prior to the Boston stop.

This year’s Boston affiliates were Comcast, which sponsored the first day's events, and Verizon, which backed the next day's demonstrations. Each affiliate asked local sponsors to come on board and earned the support of Cambridge Culinary Academy and Jasper White’s Summer Shack. Haug mentioned the affiliates and the local sponsors throughout the challenge, and their logos were splashed on games that audience members played before and after the event. Games included Tip the Scale, where fans were tasked with putting items in order of their weight onto a scale, a horseshoe toss, and a corn hole toss—all chosen to evoke a country fair in Texas, where Top Chef's last season was shot.

The tour wraps up on June 30, and has scheduled stops in cities such as Philadelphia, Seattle, and San Francisco.

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