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Article updated: 2/5/2013 12:29 PM

Libertyville chef gets 'Taste' of reality TV

By Deborah Pankey

Chef Paul Caravelli will be at Libertyville's 545 North Bar & Grill tonight, but don't expect him to be doing the cooking.

Caravelli, the 30-year-old Kendall College graduate who has been running the kitchen at the suburban bistro for almost two years, will be hanging out in the front of the house watching "The Taste" with family, friends, diners and anyone else who wants to stop by.

Why? Because he's one of 16 professional chefs and home cooks competing on ABC's new culinary competition series.

In tonight's episode, which airs at 7 p.m., Caravelli (Palatine High School Class of 2000) and his three teammates mentored by chef/author Ludo Lefebvre will be put through individual and team culinary challenges. Each episode wraps up with the mentors (Lefebvre plus chefs Anthony Bourdain, Nigella Lawson and Brian Malarkey) judging the competitors' dishes "blind," with no knowledge of who made what, what they're even eating and who they might be sending home.

Taping wrapped up in Los Angeles last year and Caravelli is prohibited from talking about the outcome of the show. He said he didn't think of himself as the reality TV type but was encouraged to enter by 545 North manager Jack O'Donnell, who operates a video production company.

"He turned the laptop around and said 'fill out this application.' I had had a couple of drinks in me and swore up and down on the application. I was just being me. ... for the show I have to keep bleeps to a minimum."

Caravelli said he was shocked first to get the invite to audition in L.A., and shocked a second time to land a spot on the show. The winner will receive $100,000 and a 2013 Ford C-Max Hybrid. "I knew a lot of the faces in the crowd; when chefs stand next to each other we size each other up ... I didn't see myself in the 'sweet 16.'"

The dish that put him on Lefebvre's team -- and among the final 16 -- consisted of pecan-crusted sea bass with proscuitto-wrapped artichokes and creamed corn.

"I conceived the dish at Whole Foods. I had cooked all those elements before, but hadn't put them all together," Caravelli said. "I wanted to do French, but not way over the top. I'm glad I went with high fat; I wanted it to linger in your mouth."

Caravelli said no matter what happens with the show he enjoyed the experience.

"I've already learned so much from Ludo," Caravelli said. "If I only get to be with him for an hour a day I want it to be jam-packed with knowledge."

The recognition for the restaurant hasn't been bad either.

"Business has definitely increased," he said. "I'll walk out to the bar to fill up my Diet Coke and they'll say 'that's the guy from the show.' We've seen a lot of new faces."

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