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On new Bravo show, chefs hit the stove as they rove

Nick Lacasse (left with rival Avery Pursell) Chicago’s Drawing Room works Lond“Around World 80 Plates.”

Nick Lacasse (left, with rival Avery Pursell) of Chicago’s Drawing Room works in London on “Around the World in 80 Plates.”

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9 to 10 p.m. Wednesdays on Bravo

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Updated: June 10, 2012 8:05AM

Take “Top Chef,” blend it with “The Amazing Race,” add a dash of “Survivor” and you get Bravo’s new food-and-travel competition, “Around the World in 80 Plates.”

Billed as the cable net’s most ambitious project yet, the show sends a dozen contestants — three from Chicago — on a gastronomical globe-trotting adventure.

In each episode, the chefs visit a different city, where they have to learn the local cuisine, compete in food-focused challenges and cook authentic dishes for the natives to avoid elimination from their teammates and stay in the running for the $150,000 prize.

“I wanted to see the world through the eyes of food,” said Wicker Park contestant John Vermiglio, 27, sous chef for Graham Elliot’s soon-to-open bistro, GEB, on Randolph.

Vermiglio got his start as a teenager washing dishes in a bagel shop. He’s since cooked for two presidents and Oprah during his three-year tenure with Table Fifty-Two chef Art Smith, who introduced Vermiglio to the travel bug by bringing him along on assignments in South Africa and the Baltic, among other exotic locales.

Argentina, Morocco, Thailand and Italy are some of the countries featured in the show, hosted by celebrity chefs Curtis Stone and Cat Cora. Well-known “food ambassadors” — Wolfgang Puck, Nigella Lawson and Jose Andres, to name a few — help immerse contestants in the local culinary culture.

Competitors find themselves brandishing their knife skills alongside fishermen in Barcelona, dodging monkeys in Marrakech while shopping for spices and racing on a pub crawl through London, where they have to master staples like fish and chips and steak and kidney pie.

“It’s my two favorite things: cooking and travel,” said Nick Lacasse, 33, of Bucktown.

Lacasse worked at all of Shawn McClain’s Chicago eateries before taking up his current post as executive chef of the Drawing Room in the Gold Coast. He went on a six-month hiatus from the kitchen a few years ago to backpack through Central America.

“It was one of the best experiences of my life,” said Lacasse, who’s also driven across the country four times.

A serious case of wanderlust also drove fellow contestant Gary Walker to give the show a try.

Walker, 40, spent several years at the Illinois Institute of Technology cooking for sorority sisters at the Kappa Phi Delta house, where he said he was more of a Mrs. Garrett than a chef.

He started his catering company, Cheflove, in 2006, and recently relocated to Los Angeles because he couldn’t take another Chicago winter.

“I was a travel agent before I became a chef,” Walker said, “so when the show was presented to me, I immediately felt like it was a good fit.”

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