Local cook spends time in ‘Top Chef’ kitchen

Basil Maqbool, of Winchester, is part of the new Bravo series “Top Chef Amateurs” premiering July 1. Valley News/Bravo courtesy photo

Pharmacist Basil Maqbool can usually be seen behind the counter at his Vail Ranch Pharmacy in Temecula but July 1, he will be on television in Bravo channel’s new show “Top Chef Amateurs.” Any fans of the long-running “Top Chef” cooking show will recognize some of the familiar “tests” contestants will be put through during each episode.

The new show, hosted by “Top Chef” judge Gail Simmons, gives talented home cooks the opportunity of a lifetime to test their skills in the illustrious “Top Chef” kitchen. In each 30-minute episode, two amateur chefs will compete head-to-head in some of the most iconic challenges from the “Top Chef” archives, including the mise-en-place race and blind taste test.

“I’ve been into cooking since I was young, learning from my mom,” Maqbool, 43, said. “As I’ve gotten older, I’ve cooked more and more. When the food network launched, I started watching cooking shows to learn more. I’ve been a superfan since “Top Chef” began. I’ve watched all 18 seasons and all of the spin-offs. When the opportunity presented itself, I had to try and participate.”

He said watching those cooking shows changed the way he thought about food. He started learning about chefs and cuisines he wasn’t familiar with and learned a lot from the judges’ comments. He enjoyed watching the fun competitions and wanted to be a part of it, but he was not a professional cook, let alone a chef.

“This show let me live out my TV chef fantasy,” Maqbool said. “The daily grind of a pharmacist isn’t very exciting; I’d much rather do something with food. Cooking and eating good food, as you can tell by my Instagram handle (@fatboytriestocook) and the sheer size of my waist, are a passion.”

He said it was “a literal dream come true” to walk into the iconic “Top Chef” kitchen and meet the mentors and judges. The show was filmed in the fall of 2020 at the kitchen used for Season 18’s “Top Chef: Portland.”

“Time was the most challenging,” Maqbool said. “I’m normally an extrovert. I don’t mind public speaking; I work with patients every day. But walking into the “Top Chef” kitchen, meeting the mentors, seeing Gail and the other judges, I was starstruck. I also didn’t want to lose. So, I went right into game mode.”

He said working in a foreign kitchen with equipment he was not familiar with and not knowing where things were was a little intimidating and disorienting. And this was his first time cooking against a clock.

“So here I am, freaking out as a superfan, but also trying to figure out what I’m going to cook and how I’m going to do it. I remember when they called ‘five minutes, chefs’ I started freaking out – I hadn’t even started plating,” Maqbool said. “Gail is as kind and genuine in person as she is on TV; it was awesome to meet her. When she critiqued my food, it was hard to really focus because it was such a surreal moment.”

Maqbool moved to Hemet in 1991 and Murrieta in 2001 and now lives in Winchester. He has owned and operated Vail Ranch Pharmacy since 2008.

“I personally like cooking and trying new things, so I’m always in the kitchen making things up,” Maqbool said. “I normally don’t follow a recipe; I try to learn techniques instead. With four kids, however, I have to make family favorites. A good red sauce and pasta or a piece of meat, like a steak or lamb chops, with a side – those are meals my wife and kids always love.”

He also loves to grill, specifically kabobs, but said that for every dish he makes that’s on his family’s playlist, he also tries to do one he’s never done before.

“I come from a family of good cooks,” Maqbool said. “My mother, my wife and my mother-in-law are all great cooks, especially traditional Pakistani cuisine, so I ask them to cook for me. But I would say for nontraditional Pakistani cuisine I am the go-to cook.”

“Top Chef Amateurs” premieres Thursday, July 1, at 9 p.m. on Bravo. Two back-to-back episodes will air following the “Top Chef: Portland” finale.

“I love to cook for a lot of reasons,” Maqbool said. “It’s relaxing, I get to express myself creatively and it’s not ‘precise’ – I can throw stuff into a pot or pan and see what happens. It reminds me of my childhood and being in the kitchen with my mom.”

For more information, www.bravotv.com/top-chef-amateurs/about.