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'Check, Please!' Announces Its Finalists: The Sweet 17

By  Janet Rausa Fuller and Erica Demarest | March 20, 2013 8:15am 

 The search to replace "Check, Please!" host Alpana Singh (center) drew more than 500 applicants.
The search to replace "Check, Please!" host Alpana Singh (center) drew more than 500 applicants.
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Facebook/Check, Please!

CHICAGO — Mrs. Charlie Trotter, a "breakfast queen" and a fashion design teacher are among the 17 finalists in the running to be the next "Check, Please!" host.

On Wednesday, the popular WTTW-Ch. 11 show posted on its website "The Round of 17" the bios, photos and audition videos of the 17 hopefuls vying to replace longtime host Alpana Singh.

"It's so much fun to be asked to the dance," Ina Pinkney said by phone from her popular West Randolph restaurant, Ina's. Better known as the "Breakfast Queen," the veteran restaurateur titled her sassy audition video, "Check Please... we need to talk."

Pinkney's competition includes restaurant consultant Rochelle Trotter, who cheekily acknowledged in her video that, yes, she is Charlie Trotter's wife, and Tommy Walton, a former cook now teaching fashion design at the School of the Art Institute Chicago.

Chef Cleetus Friedman, who has made no secret of his desire to host the show, made the cut, along with his Aussie buddy, Frank Brunacci, the former chef at Sixteen in the Trump Tower, who lamented on Friedman's Facebook page that his audition didn't go over well.

"I texted him this morning, 'Guess you didn't do that bad,'" Friedman said.

Also in the mix: Emilie Rose Bishop, the heavily inked mixologist at the West Loop restaurant iNG whose boss, chef Homaro Cantu, encouraged her to apply; and pastry chef Sarah Levy, who got actor Jim Belushi to vouch for her in her video.

Since announcing Singh's departure in January and opening the audition process, executive producer David Manilow has been inundated with material — emails, videos, food — from potential candidates. He waded through nearly 1,000 videos to reach this point.

The public is encouraged to vote for their favorite through April 17. The host will be announced May 1.

Manilow has said voting will have an impact on who is chosen, but he gets final say.

With that in mind, Anthony Todd, another finalist and the food and drink editor at Chicagoist, is playing it low-key. Indeed, he slept in late Wednesday and had just opened the confirmation e-mail from WTTW around 9 a.m.

"I'm kind of an anxious organizer, so I'm trying to avoid all that," said Todd, also a second-year law student. "This is weird for me, because it's outside of my medium, which is print. This is like free media training for me."

Friedman, on the other hand, doesn't plan to stop gunning for the job and asking his friends and followers to do so on his behalf.

"Thank God for social media," Friedman said. "I would bring a huge following to the show, and I think that matters."

Meet the Sweet 17:

• Cassidy Stirtz, Server / actor

• Tony Diaz, Sous chef at Maude’s Liquor Bar

• Senam Amegashie, Freelance writer

• Sarah Levy, Owner of S. Levy Foods / magazine editor

• Donny DeCastro, Owner of Tavern at the Park restaurant

• Frank Brunacci, Former executive chef at Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago, currently chef at The Chefs Diamond Co.

• Rochelle Trotter, Owner of R’Culiniare

• Flavia Magdalin, General manager at Ralph Lauren restaurant

• Tommy Walton, Fashion design teacher at SAIC

• Ina Pinkney, Chef/owner of Ina’s Kitchen

• Emilie Rose Bishop, Chief mixologist at iNG

• Anthony Todd, Food and drink editor for Chicagoist.com / Chicago editor for Citysearch.com

• Cristiane Pereira, Chef/owner of Taste of Brasil Café

• Catherine de Orio, President at Culinary Curator

• Cleetus Friedman, Former chef/owner of City Provisions

• Alia Dalal, Personal chef / food tour guide

• Bill St. John, Wine writer for the Chicago Tribune / professor at University of Chicago’s Graham School