even Austin is more well-known because of barbecue and food trucks\
We also have Uchi/ko which is getting a ton of national attention now :P
Surprisingly, I had heard of Uchi/ko before Paul Qui appeared on Top Chef and I've never even been to Austin. It was on my list of places to eat (if I ever made it to Austin). In fact, Paul Qui and Uchi/ko were the only reasons I watched that season of the show (haven't watched any since, nor had I watched any more than one or two of the earlier seasons).
Which makes me wonder if the general audience of Top Chef gets their food/travel/culture/dining information primarily from Food Network and its ilk.
I've been thinking about conversations between my co-workers who profess to be "foodies" and who watch Top Chef. They day after a Top Chef episode, their conversations usually go like this:
1: I can't believe x got kicked off.
2: I know. But if you think about it, x didn't follow the spirit of the challenge, and y did, so of course x would get kicked off.
1: Yeah, but y is such a jerk. Y won't last much longer, anyway.
No mention of cooking at all--not off the techniques, not of the likely taste of the food, nothing.
Again, these are people who provide my frame of reference. ymmv.
Quite true - but your colleagues are not the only ones who watch TC. There have been many discussions about the cooking aspects, or lack thereof, or what one could learn from the show, amongst folks I know or on forums - such as this one or others.
I pointed out earlier that TC has been acknowledged to now be a "Game Show" by the chief judge (Tom Colicchio) - which ought to answer part of your question. It has been discussed (at least elsewhere) how TC used to focus more on the cooking and less on the drama and how it has slipped more into the reality show realm, overall, with the progressive seasons - even though it has had many "drama" moments right from the beginning (the attempted Marcel's head-shaving included, in Season 2) It has even been stated by the producers how they wished to "get back to the cooking", even if their success is debatable. I for one will continue to treat it as a "Game Show" in the main, unless they prove otherwise in the new NOLA season.
As to whether the general audience who watches TC gets all their food info from the show or from the Food Network (which is NOT Bravo, BTW :-) ) - I would question the thought that they may...I would be inclined to think that they get info from other sources - even if it might be Yelp, heh!!! (This also feeds into the arm-waving we all had about what sort of folks "foodies" were on another contentious thread here on eG)