Will San Francisco restaurateur be ‘Top Chef’?

Four prominent San Francisco chefs are about to dive into the creative stir-fry for the fourth season of “Top Chef,” but will they actually sizzle? Locals may hope so, but before The City gets too excited, remember one thing: They’re also competing against one another.

Bravo’s kitchen showdown, premiering at 10 p.m. Wednesday, unravels in Chicago this season.

It features 16 culinary gurus and gives chefs Erik Hopfinger of Circa Restaurant, Jennifer Biesty of COCO500 and Ryan Scott of Myth Café, and restaurant consultant Zoi Antonitsas a chance to bask inthe oven light.

“This was an eye-opening experience for me — like none I’ve ever had before,” Erik says. “It was really easy to sit and watch and say, ‘Oh I can do that — no problem,’ but I didn’t understand what really went in to each challenge.”

For those who missed the clang of the dinner bells for the past, think “Survivor” in an Easy-Bake oven. The goal is to out-flavor and out-cook the competition.

The concept proved to be a delicious recipe for success for Bravo. After the show debuted in March 2006, it garnered stellar ratings, averaging more than 2 million viewers. The network happily served another two seasons.

Myth Café’s Ryan saw it as a chance to flex his culinary muscle. He believes he is a “Top Chef” because he brings “a whole different level” to the competition: “I think I am a great cook inside and out — I can do pastries, breakfast, lunch and dinner. I brought everything to the game.”

Apparently, so did Jennifer and Zoi, including their love life. The two women, who shared a relationship before the show began, are still involved.

“I’d say that’s a real challenging part of the competition,” Jennifer admits. “But I think the most challenging thing was to live with 16 strangers. And it’s a little weird competing against people and then having to go back and live with them.”

Undeterred, Zoi’s secret formula may be her roots. “My dad is Greek, and growing up, I feel I had more of a stereotypical European upbringing in that food was celebratory,” she says. “We always ate dinner together. It was a big part of my life and it was fun.”

Fun might be on the menu for the San Francisco Four, but they still have to contend with another quartet: host Padma Lakshmi, head judge Tom Colicchio, and judges Gail Simmons and Ted Allen.

It all sounds like a grueling test of endurance, but fortunately, the Emmy-nominated show doesn’t scrimp on the top prize. The winning chef nabs $100,000 in seed money to help open a restaurant, a feature in Food & Wine magazine, a showcase at the annual Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, Colo., and a plush vacation in the French Alps.

What, no dessert?

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