Alaska Life

‘Crazy fun’: Denali Park restaurant owner is first Alaskan to compete on ‘Top Chef’

When Laura Cole was first approached about appearing on "Top Chef," a popular cooking competition on Bravo's cable network, she wasn't so sure about it.

"They called me in March, you know, and you're just kind of coming out of the cold dark of winter, and it seemed totally crazy in my head," Cole said Wednesday.

Cole is the owner and executive chef of 229 Parks Restaurant and Tavern in Denali Park. A two-time James Beard Foundation Award nominee, Cole has been running the restaurant for 13 years.

"I was definitely on the fence about doing it, and then I was like, 'This is one of those things that's like once in a lifetime, and I will regret this if I don't,' and so I just kind of went for it," Cole said.

In May, Cole traveled to Colorado for the seven-week shoot. "Nobody had ever been to Alaska before," Cole said of the other contestants who will appear with her in the show's 15th season. "They're all big-city chefs."

She is the first Alaskan to appear on "Top Chef," said Matt Reichman, vice president of current production with Bravo Media.

"We were thrilled to find someone with such a unique culinary perspective from Alaska, a part of the country not always associated with the 'culinary world,' " Reichman wrote in an email.

She's not allowed to talk about how the show progressed, but Cole said the whole experience was "crazy fun" and a "brilliant opportunity."

The show introduced Cole to 14 other chefs, whom she says she adores. On Wednesday, she was traveling around the East, from New York to Nashville, Tennessee, and had met up with five chefs from the show, Cole said. She checked out their restaurants and acted as a sous chef for one of them, she said.

That chance to collaborate with new peers has been "the greatest gift ever," Cole said.

"You know how it is in Interior Alaska. You get a little isolated, and you get kind of in your bubble, and you're working so hard within what you have that it's very hard to collaborate," Cole said.

Before the show, Cole said, she was at a point where she was wondering what was next for her and the restaurant.

"What the show gave me was so much pride in what I've been able to do, and the relationships I've been able to make, and what the heart of it is, that I came back completely re-energized with love for everything that we get to do," Cole said.

"We got a good thing going on up north," Cole said.

The new season of "Top Chef" airs Dec. 7.