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Top Chef Houston: all-stars will return, Padma defends filming in Texas

Top Chef Houston: all-stars will return, Padma defends filming in Texas
Top Chef all-stars Dale Talde, Nina Compton, Tiffany Derry, Gregory Gourdet, Maria Mazon, Jamie Tran, and Byron Gomez—some of whom are returning for Top Chef Houston—applaud at the end of Top Chef Portland, presumably for the return of the all-star panel, and not the season's awful winner. (Photo by David Moir/Bravo)

Top Chef season 19 is in production, and a decade after Top Chef Texas filmed and produced in Austin, Dallas, and San Antonio, the show is back in Texas—but in a city that season 9 didn’t visit: Houston.

The Houston Chronicle first reported that Top Chef will film 12 of its 14 episodes in Houston, with the final two presumably being a finale that goes to a new location, as has been the case in the past. Filming will take five weeks and conclude by the end of October.

The Chronicle noted that Top Chef’s presence “was the result of a carefully calibrated campaign by Houston First, the local corporation that promotes the city’s tourism and convention trade.” The paper said that “Houston chefs, celebrity personalities and restaurateurs will be tapped to lend location color to the production,” while production company “Magical Elves will bring a production and talent crew of about 150 to Houston; an additional 60 local workers will be hired for various aspects of filming the series.”

The skyline of Houston, which will be home to Top Chef Houston, season 19 of the Bravo competition
The skyline of Houston, which will be home to Top Chef Houston, season 19 of the Bravo competition (Photo by Rome Wilkerson/Unsplash)

After that report, both Bravo’s website and Houston First posted announcements; the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner, was quoted in Houston First’s announcement, saying:

“I cannot think of a more perfect pairing than Top Chef and the City of Houston. Both represent a celebration of cuisine, culture and innovation. We are proud of the diverse community and unique heritage that makes our city such a hot culinary destination — from classics like Tex-Mex and barbecue to local inventions like Viet-Cajun and Japanese Tapas. As any Top Chef contestant will tell you, the best food is born out of passion, and Houstonians exemplify this idea with every dish we create.”

To get the show to film in Texas last time, Bravo was paid $600,000, including $200,000 paid by San Antonio to have the show filmed there. and the contract included a clause saying the show “shall not include any explicit negative statements specifically about the state of Texas.”

I’m curious what, if anything, Houston and/or Texas paid for the show to return to the state.

That seems particularly relevant because Texas just effectively banned abortion—a law that includes “a ‘radical expansion’ of who can sue whom.” That’s led to criticism from some fans who think Bravo, Top Chef, and its stars should be boycotting Texas, not spending money there.

Padma Lakshmi has been posting to social media about that—including her opposition to Texas’s new anti-abortion law—including pushing back against the idea of a boycott.

She wrote in one tweet, “the abortion funds, civil rights groups, restaurant owners & workers I’m working with in TX don’t support a boycott. This is their daily, lived experience.” She also wrote, “I’m continuing this fight here on the ground with local branches” of several organizations, and in another tweet said, “Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the U.S. Its govt & the majority of its ppl oppose @GovAbbott’s heinous bills.”

Padma even openly mocked some people for their pretend activism in another tweet, posting a GIF that represents, as she wrote, “Me fielding comments from ppl whose ‘activism’ was posting a black square on Instagram in June 2020 and nothing since.” She added, “Tweeting meticulously crafted hot takes isn’t you ‘doing the work.’ For that you have to listen & show up.”

These Top Chef all-stars will be on Top Chef Houston

Bravo's Top Chef Houston, illustrated by Houston artist David Maldonado
Bravo’s Top Chef Houston, illustrated by Houston artist David Maldonado (Image via Houston First)

One of the defining features of Top Chef Portland was its panel of past contestants who served as rotating judges and diners, and offered praise, critique, and commentary from their perspectives as talented chefs and past contestants. It was a change born out of the challenges of filming mid-pandemic, but became an outstanding addition to a terrific season, and at the end of the season, I wrote that I hoped it would remain part of Top Chef.

The good news is that it’s returning for season 19. Variety reported that “a variation of last season’s Top Chef all-star judging panel, in which alumni of the show joined its bubble as guest judges and mentors,” will be returning, though it’s not clear exactly how it might vary.

These are the all-star chefs confirmed by Variety to be taking part in Top Chef Houston:

  • Dawn Burrell
  • Tiffany Derry
  • Hung Huynh
  • Stephanie Izard
  • Melissa King
  • Kristen Kish
  • Kwame Onwuachi
  • Sam Talbot
  • Brooke Williamson
  • Claudette Zepeda

Presumably, Top Chef Portland’s winner, Austin, Texas-based chef Gabe Erales, won’t be involved in any way. He admitted to “discriminatory” action against an employee he had an affair after filming concluded.

While Bravo has said nothing publicly about Gabe’s actions and subsequent firing from his job, they did, of course, the network did air the season. Since then, however, they’ve attempted to erase Erales from all things Top Chef, as Eater Houston detailed.

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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.


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Happy discussing!

Tonia Frye

Friday 7th of January 2022

I am glad we recorded season 18, avoided all news, and just finished binge watching the entire thing. The best chef won and I could not care less about his “firing” or his personal life.

Gabe was hands-down the best of the lot, consistent throughout the season, and unlike ol’ Dawn, actually got his food on the plate every time. 🙄

I work in food service, in a kitchen. Harrassment is everywhere, coming from everyone toward all stripes of people. Put on your big boy or big girl pants and let it go. Plenty of places are hiring and no one has to stay anywhere if they are unhappy or “mistreated.” Getting your hours cut? Walk two doors down to the restaurant desperately looking for workers and get all the hours you can handle.