Hopefuls Vying for 'Check, Please!' Slot Include Chef Cleetus Friedman

By Janet Rausa Fuller on January 29, 2013 5:06pm | Updated on January 29, 2013 7:14pm

 Chef Cleetus Friedman, who closed his City Provisions deli and market on Jan. 28, 2013, said he will audition for the role of "Check, Please!" host.
Chef Cleetus Friedman, who closed his City Provisions deli and market on Jan. 28, 2013, said he will audition for the role of "Check, Please!" host.
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Christina Noel

CHICAGO — When one door shuts, another opens. That's what chef Cleetus Friedman hopes is the case in the coming days.

On Monday evening, Friedman closed City Provisions, his critically-adored Ravenswood deli and market. It was a difficult decision made about a month ago, he said Tuesday, based on a lack of traffic as well as personal matters he declined to discuss further.

His next move — to be made Wednesday — is to try out for the position of "Check, Please!" host.

"That's right up my alley," said Friedman, who studied at Chicago's ImprovOlympic and has performed in solo and improv shows, all while working as a chef.

Last week, the popular WTTW-Ch. 11 show announced the departure of its host for the past 10 years, Alpana Singh, who has her hands full with her new River North restaurant, the Boarding House. Executive producer David Manilow plans to open the audition process Wednesday.

Manilow said messages from prospective candidates started coming in minutes after Crain's Chicago first reported it last week. They have not stopped. He said 174 people have thus far reached out to him via e-mail, text, phone, Twitter and Facebook.

"I'm wide open and will look at absolutely every submission and audition tape," Manilow said.

One of those text messages, Friedman said, was from him.

"I love being in front of people. I love being in front of the camera. To wrap that all together into a show about food, I think I could bring an incredible energy to that show," Friedman said.

He has plenty of company.

Those who said Tuesday they also will audition include Suzy Singh, a past contestant on Fox's "Masterchef," and cake designer Naomi Levine of TipsyCake. Those considering it include chef Phillip Foss of El Ideas and food writers and bloggers Audarshia Townsend, David Hammond and Joe Campagna.

Singh said she already has e-mailed video clips and her resume to producers. She plans to pitch two ideas: herself as host, or co-host with her friend, the former B-96 disc jockey Julian Nieh.

Levine, a chatty Australian who opened her bakery in 2004, is acting on a bit of a lark. "If I don't get it, it's fine," she said.

But, she added, the show is "good for the community, it's an important station and I think I'd really enjoy it. And I'm sure the guests will love me.

"They said they're looking for not a jerk, and I'm not a jerk. I'm a very nice person."

Manilow told DNAInfo Chicago it doesn't matter if a host hasn't had previous television experience or is a chef, server or blogger. The ideal candidate should "first and foremost" have knowledge and expertise in the food and wine world, he said.

Townsend, who documents the city's dining and drinking scene on her 312 Dining Diva blog, said she has that, and more.

"Of course, being me, we'd be sitting there with cocktails instead of wine," she said, referring to the show's format wherein guests and host imbibe while filming.

For Friedman, "Check, Please!" is just one avenue to explore as he moves on from City Provisions (though not physically just yet — his lease at 1818 W. Wilson Ave. isn't up until August, and he still has a few weddings to cater.)

He and fellow chef Rick Gresh also are preparing to launch a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for Food Revolution, an online video series that will follow the pair around town "cooking in people's kitchens, brewing beer, showing you the best barbecue — but coming from a chef's perspective," Friedman said.

The goal, he said, is to turn it into a TV show.

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