Meet Chicago's Newest Foodie Sensation

Hundreds of Chicago food fanatics tried out to be the new host of Check, Please!, but only one would be chosen to follow in Alpana Singh's footsteps. Meet Catherine De Orio, the gorg new face of the hit television show that allows Windy City locals to sing the praises of their favorite chow spots. While we wonder how De Orio keeps that rockin' bod despite eating for a living, we think we've found our new best friend — and ultimate dinner companion.
We spent the day with De Orio in her West Loop 'hood and visited some of her favorite spots (you can bet wine was involved). Of course, we chatted about everything from food to fashion to ditching her career as a lawyer to go to culinary school. Trust, after clicking through this slideshow, we think you'll agree: It really is possible to have your cake and eat it, too.
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
What do you love about your West Loop ‘hood?
"I have been living here for about 13 years, so I've watched it change from an edgy-peripheral neighborhood to a thriving area bursting with incredible restaurants and bars — which, given my profession, is a major plus. Also, the residents are a great mix of people both in age and ethnicity — they're friendly, too."

Helmut Lang leather leggings, Altuzarra fur-trimmed jacket, Roberto Cavalli silk bustier, Jimmy Choo booties, Alexis Bittar ring, Barton Perreira sunglasses, Brachfeld Parlaghy purse.
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
Why is Perman Wine Selections your go-to place for vino?
"Owner Craig Perman is fantastic. Filled with encyclopedic amounts of knowledge about wine (and craft beer and spirits), he harbors absolutely no pretension. He is my go-to guy when I need to buy a special bottle for someone, pair something with tricky cuisine, or just stock up my home bar with some great bottles."

"He recently introduced me to a prosecco made by a bother-sister duo in Italy that uses the Champagne method of production — so it picks up the same brioche notes one would find in a Champagne. Needless to say, I’m developing an addiction to it. He also will host wine tasting parties (and he can pair with cheeses from Pastoral) in his space."
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
Were you always a foodie?
"Yes. The first word my mom said I would say over and over when I learned to talk was ‘dish.’ Pretty apropos, huh? I grew up in a family where good food was a constant. My mom is a great cook, and my grandmother was absolutely amazing. Although my mom always made great meals, she saw it as more of a necessity, whereas my grandmother absolutely loved to cook and to nourish others — she definitely inspired my passion for all things culinary."

"We weren’t allowed to eat processed foods, so growing up I ate healthy, well-prepared meals every night (thanks, mom!). It really spoiled me."
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
Is there anything you won’t eat?
"Nope. I won’t do Fear Factor eating just for the sake of it, but I will try anything so long as it is part of a culture’s culinary repertoire."
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
What were you doing before you were hosting Check, Please!?
"I am a recovering attorney who went to culinary school before switching careers. I didn’t enjoy being an attorney at all. At a certain point, I just realized I either needed to accept that I was going to stay in the profession and change my attitude, or move on and change my life. I chose the latter — but it definitely wasn't easy. For every success there have been some pretty tough falls, but I love what I do and I get an incredible amount of satisfaction watching my career continue to grow — and in directions I never anticipated."

"For nearly a decade since I made the change, I have done everything from being a personal chef; teaching cooking classes; food and prop styling for editorial and broadcast shoots; recipe development for editorial outlets; product packaging and corporate broadcast campaigns; and serving as a corporate spokesperson for huge brands such as Sara Lee, Godiva, and Disney."

"I have also write about dining/cooking, lifestyle, cocktails, and travel for multiple outlets, and have made numerous television and event appearances around the country."
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
Just how nerve-racking was that interview process? There was certainly a lot of buzz surrounding it!
"Most. Nerve-racking. Ever. Usually when you are interviewing for a new position, you may tell one or two close friends, a family member, your significant other, etc. In this case, there were thousands of people (sadly, no exaggeration), so if you didn’t move to the next interview stage, everyone knew. I tried not to focus on that and just move forward as if it was any other interview."

Zadig & Voltaire Mongolian vest, Isabel Marant blouse, Diane von Furstenberg skirt, Reiss hat, Jimmy Choo booties, Givenchy purse, vintage diamond earrings, Alexis Bittar bracelets, Sheila Fajl ring.
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
Was there a point in the process that you felt you nailed it, or did the announcement come as a complete surprise?
"It’s funny you ask that. In fact, I was the only one in the final five who didn’t think they nailed it. Obviously, I was hoping I had, but I have been in this business long enough to never assume anything — I’ve learned to temper my expectations. Also, I am absolutely my toughest critic — I am constantly striving to improve and thus always think of what I could have done better. I guess I am the perfectionist Virgo to a T!"
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
What brings you into Pan Hellenic Pastry Shop?
"This is such a great neighborhood café. It's warm, inviting, and authentic — it's also run by a brother-sister duo. It doesn’t hurt that they make the best baklava in the city, which is perfect accompanied by a strong brewed Greek coffee. I love all things almond, so if I am feeling particularly indulgent, I will also grab some amigdalota cookies (made with almond paste), another favorite of mine. Everything is homemade and incredibly fresh — it’s a must-stop, whether you're in the neighborhood or not."
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
Speaking of authentic eats, where do you like to travel? Is it always a culinary adventure?
"I don’t always set out to have a culinary adventure, but it does usually end that way. I tend to like cities more than beach vacations. I have a remarkable amount of energy, so I get restless after a few days laying on a beach. I am heading out to Japan this month, first to Tokyo for a major culinary (and shopping!) extravaganza (I scored a reservation at Sukiyabashi Jiro of Jiro Dreams of Sushi fame) and then Kyoto to check out the temples and historic area of Japan."

"Venice and Paris are on constant rotation because I lived and worked there. So, I like to return and see friends. Marrakech, Morocco is one of my favorite places on earth though — the sights, sounds, smells — it’s an absolute sensory overload and nothing makes me happier!"
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
What are you doing when you’re not working on the show?
"Same thing I am always doing — writing, dining, developing recipes, traveling, and spending time with my friends, family, and my pug, Bailey. In addition, I am studying for my first-level sommelier exam and working on my website GlamourGrub.com, due to launch next year. It will be a dining and entertaining-focused site with a bit of fashion thrown in for good measure."
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
So, you're a fashionable foodie! Who are a couple of your favorite designers and why?
"Helmut Lang is my day-to-day go-to brand. I travel a lot for work, so I always throw a ton of options into a carry-on that will fill every need and keep me looking polished and stylish whether I am at a client meeting, or dinner with friends. Plus, each season complements the one before, so it’s easy to continue to build on my old pieces."

"And, then there is Dolce & Gabbana. I wish these two would adopt me as their niece and dress me. I wear a lot of their dresses and structured bustiers — their pieces are a perfect fit for my natural hourglass figure."
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
How does your style on the show compare to what you wear in real life?
"All the clothes I wear on the show are mine, but I tend to wear way more color than I normally would in my real life. Plus, I tone down my accessories — I’m kind of a more-is more-gal when it comes to accenting my outfit. On the show though, I feel it’s important that my outfits don’t make more of a statement than my guests (or myself)."

"I’m not really a casual dresser. Even when I was at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I wore high-heels, leather pants, and makeup every day — I don’t even know if I owned jeans in college."

Tanner O’Connor dress and belt, Balenciaga trench coat, Brian Atwood shoes, vintage purse, Alexis Bittar ring, J.Crew bracelet.
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
What's a shopping experience like at Tanner O’Connor Design Lab?
"This is local designer Kelsey Tanner O’Connor’s atelier where you can buy ready-to-wear pieces as well as bespoke ones. She has an incredible understanding of the female shape and her outfits really show off all of our best assets. Her silhouettes are clean, structured, and have small details throughout that add just the right amount of oomph to bring it to the next level without pushing it into over the top."

"She is my go-to for all of my special appearances — her clothes are elegant and feminine with a shot of sex appeal. In my book, it’s a winning formula."
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
What’s your opinion on those who don’t care to dress with care at a fancier/classier establishment? Is this rule dead?
"Society as a whole has moved toward a more relaxed dress code for all things, including dining. I don’t care so much about whether someone dresses up or not; it’s whether they dress with care. Don’t show up to a restaurant looking like you are ready to mow someone’s lawn. And, if you do, you better look like the most well-groomed lawn boy out there — but lose the white tube socks and trainers."
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
Where are some of your other favorite places to shop?
"I don’t have as much time to shop in actual stores as I would like, so I do a lot of online buying at places like Net-A-Porter, Matches, Zara, Shopbop, and FarFetch. When I am traveling, I try to hit whatever vintage stores are in the area — I recently came home from Austin with eight hats! Locally, Ikram is a wonderland of beautiful objects — you can admire, acquire, or be inspired. She has pieces that you won’t find anywhere else. Also, Space 519 is so well-curated — it’s a perfect place whether you are looking for a new outfit or a hip gift to bring someone. As far as bigger stores, I love Barneys, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus."
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
What type of preparation goes into each episode of Check, Please!?
"There is the basic reviewing of each week’s scripts, but most of the prep is in checking out the restaurants. I visit and eat at every restaurant (definitely not a plus for the jean size!) so that I can understand what the guests experienced to facilitate the conversation. I also chat with the chef and/or owner of the restaurant to learn about their background, their cooking philosophy, and their restaurant."

"In addition, I do a pre-interview call with each of the guests a few days before the shoot. Interacting with the industry folk and my guests is my favorite part of the job — I’m definitely a people-person!"
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
If the role was reversed, what are a few of your favorite restaurants in Chicago?
"I have a few old standbys, but the dining landscape in Chicago is so diverse and ever-changing, it would be unfair for me to play favorites."
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
What can we expect from your first season?
"As far as the show, it will be the same great formula —we are showcasing restaurants from Flossmoor to Skokie and everything in-between. As for me, you will see the same respect and enthusiasm I’ve always had for the dining community mixed with a bit a humor and light-hearted fun."
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
Helmut Lang skirt and shirt, ALC jacket, Valentino shoes, vintage silver cuff bracelet, Alexis Bittar earrings, vintage diamond ring, Brachfeld Parlaghy purse, Ray Ban sunglasses.
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
What do you love about La Colombe?
"I love the warm, modern, organic design of the café and the lack of Wi-fi makes it a great place to actually connect with friends, read or take a mental break — it is the closest I’ve found to a European-style café. I live nearby and often meet people here for meetings. And, it's not unusual to run into a number of my industry friends and colleagues while there."
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
What's your go-to drink?
My usual drink is a café Americano black. If it's a hot summer day, I like their bottled pure black cold-pressed coffee — and I find the vintage soda machine where it is stored absolutely charming. Lattes are too heavy as a daily drink for me, but when I indulge they are fantastic —complete with artistic renderings within the milk foam. And, the majolica earthenware serving dishes just add an extra layer of style to this substantive café."
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
If you didn't try out for the role of the new host of Check, Please! who would you have been rooting for?
"During the process, I didn’t know the final five all that well. Ina Pinkney was amazing and invited us all over to have breakfast at her restaurant so we could meet one another over a meal. Afterwards, I honestly felt like anyone in the group would do a good job."
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Photographed by Julia Stotz.
So, what's next for Catherine De Orio?
"I was in the process of developing two websites before the Check, Please! frenzy, so I am back on track and will be launching my entertaining/dining site in the new year (as well as some other interesting projects), so stay tuned!"
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