Check, Please!the local show focuses on a rotating panel of everyday people commenting on various restaurantswill have a combination of the new and the familiar when Alpana Singh returns to helm the show after a five-year absence, succeeding Catherine De Orio.
Windy City Times: Did returning to Check, Please! feel like putting on a pair of old, comfortable shoes?
Alpana Singh: You know what it was? I describe it to people as having a job that you really love but, now, you know what you know and you have this life experience.
When I first took the show over [in 2003], I was 26 years old; I was still working as a sommelier. Now, I'm 41 and I have a lot more life behind me. I've three restaurants behind me now. So while I feel the essence of my personality hasn't changedI'm still bubbly and outgoingI feel I'm more solid with my insight. I feel more informed and authoritative. There come a time and age, you know?
You said you have three restaurants behind you. Are you no longer associated with any of them?
AS: So I only have Terra & Vine [in Evanston]. With Boarding House and Seven Lions, I sold my interests last August; Seven Lions is still going, and Boarding House closed a [little while] ago.
So did your return to Check, Please! happen?
AS: I just got a phone call and they asked me to meet, and one thing led to anotherthat's just how it happened. With me shedding a couple restaurants, I was in a much better place in my life when it came time to do it.
I felt like the universe was telling me something. It just worked out really well because, last year, I was thinking about running for office as a Cook County commissioner and I decided not to. There was something telling me to wait and that it wasn't the right time. It just wasn't for me, at that time. Then six months later this opportunity came along, and I'm glad I listened to my intuition.
So I saw the first episode. Based on it, I think your tag line should be "Is there such a thing as a bad taco?"
AS: [Laughs] That's pretty funny.
So what's different this time around?
AS: Well, we didn't change the formulathe things people want and adore about the show. The show has not changed at all.
However, some of the [extra] things are different. David Manilow, the creator of the show, and I are offering a behind-the-scenes look at the show; it us talking, "Between the Ferns" style. We talk about restaurants, of course, and about what guests say. We also have a column about some facet of the show; for example, I'll offer BYOB tips, like bringing albarino to a Mexican restaurant, or what to bring to a brunchand I never thought about doing that.
So the [addenda] will be different, but the form and structure of the show will remain the same.
Also, [the additions are needed because] the dining landscape has changed: Chicago now hosts the James Beard Awards, and Chicago has been named a top dining city, and how social media has impacted dining with people preplanning their visits with research.
I wanted to offer a twist on the standard "What is your favorite restaurant" question: What now-closed restaurant do you wish were still open?
AS: I would say Charlie Trotter's; it was such a beacon of dining. Either that one, or one like Le Francais in its heyday in the '70s. It was about glam, old-school dining in which people got dressed up, and it was really about service and hospitality. It was really about fine dining.
The new season of Check, Please! will debut Friday, Oct. 26, on WTTW at 8 p.m. See checkplease.wttw.com/ .