Bravo announced today what I reported last week: Top Chef season 18 is filming now in Portland. And the announcement reveals that Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons will judge—but there will also be “an elite rotating judging and dining panel comprised of Top Chef All Star winners and finalists.”
Instead of using all-stars as contestants, like American Ninja Warrior and Big Brother did, Top Chef appears to be using them so the show can have both rotating guest judges and additional diners—because they cannot bring in individual guest judges for a single episode, nor can they have the chefs cook at events for crowds of people.
“We can’t do the big events anymore, and those were always a lot of fun. But we’re doing stuff outdoors, at local vineyards, local farms, and things like that,” Tom Colicchio told The Oregonian‘s Kristi Turnquist.
The Top Chef alumni Bravo listed as returning could make up an entire season themselves:
- Richard Blais
- Carrie Baird
- Nina Compton
- Tiffany Derry
- Gregory Gourdet
- Melissa King
- Kristen Kish
- Edward Lee
- Kwame Onwuachi
- Amar Santana
- Dale Talde
- Brooke Williamson
The press release is highlights Top Chef’s “comprehensive health and safety plan developed in accordance with CDC guidance, all state and local orders, as well as NBCUniversal’s own safety guidelines.” Of course, that’s what all shows in production now are saying, even though many of those sets have been not very safe at all.
In interviews with The Oregonian, Gregory Gourdet, who’s one of the returning all-stars, said they’re all staying in a hotel, “a big bubble, and we have pods in the bubble. We get tested every two days.” And Tom Colicchio detailed some of the show’s safety measures. “We’re pretty locked down. Even though we’re in a bubble, on the set we’re still in masks, and social distancing. The only time we’re not in masks is when the chefs are cooking. So far, it’s been pretty seamless,” he said.
Showrunner Doneen Arquines told The Oregonian that we will see some changes on screen. Top Chef is “still working with Whole Foods, but we’re doing curbside pickup,” Arquines said. “We’re taking things a little bit slower than we have in the past. We can be in locations when they’re closed, so people that aren’t tested aren’t around. The kitchen is going to be larger and wider to allow for more social distancing for our crews, and the chefs. Our judges’ table is much larger, to keep more distance from everybody.”
Portland has been in the news this summer, thanks in part to the president’s desire to create fear by inciting confrontations. But plans had been in the works before then, and even before the world changed in March. “Portlanders wanted us to come here for a while, and we’ve been wanting to come here for a while, but the timing never worked out. It was something we had been striving for,” Arquines said. “None of us thought, when we first started, that it would be quite as a big a deal as it is, or that it would still be happening in September.”
While Portland is the show’s home base, it will be filming around Oregon, too, and not just sticking to a single studio. The press release says the show will visit “Hood River Fruit Loop, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon’s Mt. Hood Territory, Tillamook Bay, Tualatin Valley and Willamette Valley wine country.”
Both Travel Portland and Travel Oregon were listed, suggesting they are supporting the production financially. That’s typical: Texas paid $600,000, while San Antonio paid $200,000 to be featured; New Orleans paid $375,000, while Colorado may have paid up to $1 million.