If you watched last night’s Top Chef premiere, you might have noticed a new feature in the stew room: a monitor that lets the cheftestants watch select parts of the judges critique on their dishes, adding a new level of intensity to the already high-stakes competition.
So why introduce this aspect to Judges’ Table?
"We're in the 11th season of the show," Matt Reichman, Director of Production at Bravo, tells the Dish. "We wanted to make sure that the chefs were not just going through this world that they’d become very familiar with, and the goal is always to keep them on their toes."
And if last night’s episode was any indication, this new element, which Tom Colicchio came up with and took to the producers, will definitely accomplish that goal. For the first time ever, chefs get immediate feedback and can prepare for explanations for Judges' Table—it's a tactic that creates some tense moments between the chefs.
"There’s an immediacy to the feedback that the chefs will get by seeing the judges deliberate on the monitor," says Reichman. "The judges are only revealing enough information to give the chefs an idea of how they did. This is a way for the chefs to be able to better defend their decision making, to speak to certain flaws they had anticipated in their dish."
The result, Reichman says, is a "certain level of anxiety for the chefs. If they’re leaving a challenge not feeling very confident, there’s that dread of hearing that criticism, or that anger building of how to justify decisions that they made."
Might this new storytelling element change the entire vibe of the show? "We knew we were taking a bit of a risk," Reichman says. "The show really works as is, and any time you try to freshen it up with a new idea, that could really change the chemistry. But we were excited about the idea, and we think it worked out really well."
The cast and crew may be taking the stew room changes in stride, but what we’re really dying to know is what went down when the cameras weren’t rolling? We won’t give too much away, but according to Reichman, all you need to know is that Padma Lakshmi has some "pretty great" dance moves. And that's all we'll say about that.