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Top Chef Portland’s winner admits ‘discriminatory’ actions after relationship with employee

At the conclusion of Top Chef Portland’s finale, Gabe Erales won the $250,000 prize, defeating Dawn Burrell and Shota Nakajima, becoming the show’s first Mexican-American winner in its 18-season history. Today, he admitted to “bad decisions” following a consensual sexual relationship with one of his employees that led to his firing in late 2020. Now host and judge Padma Lakshmi has called for Bravo to investigate.

In December, Eater Austin reported that Gabe was fired from his job as executive chef at Comedor in Austin for “repeated violations of our policies and for behavior in conflict with our values,” according to the restaurant’s chef and partner Philip Speer. But no further details were made public until today, the day after the season concluded. Speer later told the Austin Chronicle, “I can tell you about my range of emotions—everything from sadness to anger to disappointment to fear, and I am sure that everybody in the company feels the same way. There’s some feeling of relief, there’s some feelings of sadness, there’s a whole gamut of emotions.”

Today, the Austin American-Statesman reported that “Erales admitted to having a consensual sexual relationship with a female member of his kitchen staff in the summer of 2020 — and then reduced cutting her hours in November after he returned from taping the culinary king-making show in Portland in September and October. Erales said he cut the hours of the woman based on her performance, though Comedor chef-partner Philip Speer told the American-Statesman he did not deem the woman’s work as sufficient reason for hours being cut.”

Top Chef Portland winner Gabe Erales after his win was announced
Top Chef Portland winner Gabe Erales after his win was announced. (Photo by David Moir/Bravo)

Gabe told the Austin American-Statesman:

“After I returned from ‘Top Chef,’ I made some business decisions as a manager that affected this employee and were found to be discriminatory and I realized that those were bad decisions,” Erales told the Statesman this week. “I’ve spent the last six months really reflecting on these mistakes and taking the necessary steps to be a better husband, a father, a chef and a leader, through therapy, through spirituality.”

Bravo did not offer a comment or information about actions it has or might take. But the paper spoke to a production source who “said Erales told the production team” about this, and “the company looked into Erales’s behavior on the set of Top Chef, found no problematic behavior and decided to continue airing the show as planned.”

Last year, RuPaul’s Drag Race disqualified a contestant and re-edited episodes to minimize their presence, even though that person, Joey Gugliemelli, made the final four. Gugliemelli admitted to “[causing] such trauma and pain” by pretending to be a casting director and convincing men to send him sometimes sexually explicit videos.

While Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio and judge Gail Simmons have not commented on social media about Gabe Erales’ firing or admissions, Padma wrote on Twitter:

As someone who has been sexually harassed, this topic is a serious one and merits openness.   We filmed Top Chef in October of last year & were not aware of the allegations now coming out about Gabe. This should be investigated & the network should consider its best action.

To be clear, no one has alleged sexual harassment on the record or otherwise to Bravo/Top Chef and we judges didn’t have any indication of inappropriate behavior from Gabe during his time on set.

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  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means. Learn more about Andy.

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