New ‘Check, Please!’ host Catherine De Orio says popular show is tougher than it looks
By LORI RACKL TV Critic October 14, 2013 5:03PM
Catherine De Orio is the new host of "Check, Please!"
MEET CATHERINE DE ORIO
What’s in her DVR: “Downton Abbey,” “Mad Men,” “Family Guy,” “Portlandia” and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.”
On her bookshelves: De Orio estimates she owns more than 1,000 cookbooks, but she often buys Harold McGee’s “On Food and Cooking” as a gift. “It’s a fantastic book for people who want to learn how to cook, not just follow a recipe.”
On her iPod: Adele, Billie Holiday, PJ Harvey, Etta James, Nina Simone and Ella Fitzgerald.
In her closet: Local designer Kelsey Tanner O’Connor (who named the “Cat” dress after her), A.L.C, Dolce & Gabbana, Helmut Lang and Lanvin.
On her table at dinner parties: Red wine braised rabbit over Parmesan polenta, linguini with clams, homemade gnocchi and porcini mushroom-encrusted beef tenderloin.
Updated: October 14, 2013 7:46PM
Chicago’s popular restaurant review show, “Check, Please!” starts its 13th season Friday with a new face at the head of the table.
Heck, even the table is new.
Producers figured that as long as the winds of change were blowing through the WTTW series, they might as well give the set a makeover, too.
“I like to think of it as Girl & the Goat goes to Nantucket,” host Catherine De Orio said about the updated “Check, Please!” digs.
Designed by Karen Herold of the Chicago-based firm 555 International (whose client list includes Stephanie Izard’s West Loop eatery), the new “Check, Please!” set is bright, warm, hip, urban — all adjectives that describe De Orio as well.
The Elmwood Park native replaces longtime host Alpana Singh, who ended her 10-year run with the show to focus on her new River North restaurant.
While De Orio is new to the “Check, Please!” cast, she’s spent plenty of time in front of the camera. The West Loop attorney-turned-culinary consultant estimated she’s filmed upwards of 700 food-related TV segments for everything from tiny local media markets in Arkansas to NBC’s “Today” show. But that copious on-air experience didn’t save her from having a mild panic attack on the eve of shooting her first “Check, Please!” episode.
“Like a total girl, I was like, ‘What am I going to wear?’ ” De Orio said. “I literally ran out at 7:30 at night looking for a place that’s still open. I had it in my head that I needed bright colors and I couldn’t wear black like I normally do.”
She found a green frock to solve her sartorial crisis. “It’s my lucky color,” she said.
Indeed it is. Green is what she wore in the final round of auditions during the on-camera tryouts for a job that drew more than 900 video applicants. She beat out a formidable pool of foodies to land a one-year contract with an option to renew.
Dressed in black on a recent afternoon, having just finished taping the 12th and final episode of the new season, De Orio said the gig is a lot harder than it looks. Hosts have to curate a conversation between strangers who might have wildly different personalities, charisma levels and tastes in food.
“You’re thinking about 20 things at once,” she said. “What’s the timing? Am I getting everything in? Does everyone feel comfortable? What’s the energy level? If it’s too low, how do I bring it up — but not too much. If it’s too high-energy, it’s like watching a ‘Real Housewives’ reunion show. It just gives you a headache.”
A bit of a bon vivant, De Orio is famous among her circle of friends for throwing dinner parties. The new job meant there wasn’t much time for entertaining this summer. She was too busy with appearances, interviews and visits to local restaurants, including Estrella Negra, Benny’s Chop House and Tin Fish, all featured in the premiere.
On the rare occasion she stayed home for supper, the Kendall College culinary school grad would make what she calls her prison dinner: grilled fish with lemon or a simple Greek salad.
Not that she’s complaining. It’s been a while, but De Orio remembers watching the first season of “Check, Please!” with her boyfriend — now husband — and telling him how much she wanted the hosting job.
“It only took me 12 years to get here,” she said, “but here I am.”