Cristiane Pereira of Berwyn has dreamed of seeing her Taste of Brasil Café featured on "Check, Please!" on PBS television's WTTW in Chicago, but never imagined herself in the host's chair. Now she is one of 17 finalists vying for the spot long held by Alpana Singh, who departed to devote herself to her newly opened River North restaurant The Boarding House.
The intense vetting process next will have Pereira and three mock guests do a test episode for producers, whose final decision will be influenced by a fan vote component. People can cast votes until 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, April 17, with only one vote per IP address permitted. Visit checkplease.wttw.com/checkpleasehost to view the submission videos of each finalist, culled from the original group of hundreds created by people hungry for that coveted chair.
When producers asked, "Why are you the best host?" Pereira responded, in part: "I built my business with a lot of hard work physically and mentally. But what always really stood out and kept on bringing people in is my personality and affinity to connect with people around me."
Brazilian by birth, Pereira came to the U.S. with husband Andre Otero a decade ago, and has been a longtime fan of "Check, Please!" After gaining culinary experience with a wide range of cuisines, she became chef-owner of her Oak Park restaurant three years ago, shortly before the birth of their daughter, Bianca.
"We've been growing slowing, but consistently," she says of the eatery, adding the focus is on providing great food and wonderful customer service. "I want them to feel at home."
To that end, she prepares an array of Brazilian favorites, including the country's national dish: feijoada, a black bean stew prepared with pork and smoked sausage, available daily at lunch and dinner.
"It's very flavorful," she says. "We cook with a lot of seasoning. It comes with three different sides: lightly sautéed collard greens with garlic; Brazilian white rice; and seasoned yucca flour called farofa. Our most popular desserts are Brazilian chocolate cake and passion fruit mousse."
They are adding staff to move from a fast-casual concept to full service for patrons dining in. She says people are welcome to bring their own wine, with no corkage fee charged.
"When we bought it, it was a coffee house," says Pereira, currently enrolled in a catering management class at Triton College. "People were used to grabbing just coffee. We still have it to go."
The new "Check, Please!" host will be announced May 1. Regardless of the outcome, fans of Taste of Brasil are reassured by Pereira that she has no plans to give up her beloved café.
"This is a very exciting moment for me," she says in the midst of preparing for the next audition hurdle. "And I'm really glad that Berwyn had a spot for us to live. I love the neighbors."
Cast your vote
What: Cristiane Pereira of Berwyn is finalist for host of "Check, Please!"
Review contestants: checkplease.wttw.com/checkpleasehost
Restaurant: Taste of Brasil Café, 906 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park; www.facebook.com/pages/Taste-of-Brasil-Cafe/162562993761312