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Here's What the 'Top Chef' Judges Really Think of This Season's Location

Madison, Wisconsin's Tornado Club Steak House and L’Etoile were favorites.

<p>KEVIN J. MIYAZAKI / Midwest Living</p>

KEVIN J. MIYAZAKI / Midwest Living

We're just a few short days away from the season premiere of Top Chef, arguably one of the Food & Wine staff's collective favorite television shows. And if you're anything like us, you're really, really excited for the new season's filming location — Wisconsin. And our friends at Midwest Living are giving everyone a peek at what's to come.

On the cover is Top Chef's new host Kristen Kish, alongside judges Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons, who came together to chat about their favorite memories from the season, and a few of their favorite local bites, too.

“Being in Wisconsin has felt really familiar. Driving around, there are pockets very reminiscent of my childhood in Michigan," Kish shared in the issue. "Like when I was a kid, I would get out of the car to buy corn and put quarters in a Maxwell coffee can — and I did that again here! It wasn’t a coffee can (and the corn didn’t cost 25 cents this time, but it was still very much that honor system. How Midwest.”

Related: The Top 'Top Chef' Dishes From 20 Seasons, According to Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons

While for Kish, the season was like returning home, for Simmons and Colicchio, it was a reminder of just how great the Midwest culinary scene can be. Especially since the show hasn't filmed a season in the region since its Chicago run way back in 2008.

“The Midwest sometimes gets a bad rap. It’s like, ‘Oh, you’re going to Wisconsin: cheese curds.’ Well, there’s a lot more than cheese curds here," Colicchio said.

<p>BRAVO/ STEPHANIE DIAN</p>

BRAVO/ STEPHANIE DIAN

That "something more" includes the Dane County farmers’ market, which Simmons described as "kind of like a mecca. Everyone has reverence for the product, and they’re all walking in the same direction. I wanted to buy everything.” And really, it's easy to see why. The market sees more than 275 vendors come in and out throughout the year, with about 150 vendor members showing up each Saturday to sell their goods, including locally produced meats, cheeses, produce, and baked goods.

Though it's not the only local haunt the trio raved about visiting during production. They also spent time at the Tornado Club Steak House, which Simmons shared "made me nostalgic…My mother used to cook that for fancy dinner parties in the ’70s and ’80s … I feel like I’m getting the hang of the supper club.” And they paid a visit to L’Etoile, which prides itself on its commitment to highlighting local farmers, alongside its executive chef and guest judge, Tory Miller.

Related: The Best 'Top Chef' Restaurants

“To showcase these things on a scale like this is just incredible,” Miller told the magazine. “It shines a light on the producers and farmers that are doing really amazing stuff.”

Want more inside info on the next season? Check out the Midwest Living's spring issue when it hits newsstands on March 22, and learn all about the season 21 contestants on foodandwine.com

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