When I first heard from one of my producers that we were thinking of doing a mass wedding as a challenge in Palm Springs, I immediately thought it was a fantastic idea. We had certainly catered other celebrations and important family occasions before. In fact, I believe they had already done a wedding the first season when I wasn’t there as host yet in San Francisco. I had also particularly enjoyed a quinceniera celebration for a young girl named Blanca in San Antonio during our Texas season. So I knew that it would be moving and important both for the show and our contestants.
The most important reason we cook for others is not only to feed ourselves, but to nurture and show love to those who are important to us. What better occasion to express this on the show than through a wedding ceremony?
When I quickly found out that it was to be a mass gay wedding, I asked who would officiate, and whether we had time to get me ordained to do it. I really wanted to do it. I had always wanted to get ordained and felt that as the host of our show, I wanted to be a part of the ceremony in a meaningful way. And I certainly wasn’t planning to get hitched myself! I felt elated when the notification came through that I was officially legally authorized in California as a minister. Yippee!
Many of us in the Top Chef family are either gay or have someone very dear to us who is gay, so we felt pretty strongly that all of us should have the same rights and liberties to love and express that love through the covenant of marriage. What everyone may not realize watching the episode, is that we filmed it before the Supreme Court made marriage a legal right for all Americans. So the ceremony had special meaning beyond being the most important day for those who were getting married. It was our way of taking a political stand.
But politics aside, it was a very exciting day for all of us on set. I asked if I could write the vows and the ceremony, and one of our executive producers, Erica Ross, gave me some parameters and what we needed covered as well as how long the ceremony and vows should take.
I was very nervous, and I edited and rehearsed my little speech for a long time. I am sure my hair and makeup team had it memorized too before we left for the event space that morning.
Added to all this, our culinary producer Sandee Birdsong decided to propose to her longtime girlfriend, Patti. Patti and Sandee are two of my favorite people on the crew of Top Chef. My daughter Krishna has grown up with them on set, and considers them surrogate aunties, a pair of crazy ad hoc fairy godmothers who have taught her how to draw mermaids and taken her on wild escapades while her mom was working in front of the camera. So it felt like members of our own family were getting married too. This only added to joyous and intense emotion of the day for me. I was happy, and happy to see Sandee and Patti so happy to finally become spouses after being together for over twenty years. For me the most memorable part of the whole day was watching Patti in her big white dress come walking out with Sandee in her white suit. They were beaming, and I could feel the impact and warmth of the love surrounding us everywhere, not only from them, but from the procession of all the other couples accompanied with their loved ones, ready to make a commitment that had come so hard won for so many reasons.
I also felt a huge responsibility as I had to marry about fifty other people that I didn’t know. That, I had never once in my life imagined doing! The whole thing was surreal, but in the most delightful way.
I always worry and fret for the contestants, hoping they’ll do their best for such challenges, especially when it is such an important day for those they’re cooking for. At that point, it becomes less about the show or the competition and more about just doing everything we all can to make the event and the day great.
I needn’t have worried. The chefs, collectively put on a fabulous feast. And Art Smith brought us a gorgeous rainbow cake too that topped it all off. Even those that hadn’t been doing too well in the competition so far came out with dishes that not only had soul and heart, but also were delicious and memorable. I was proud that our chefs captured the spirit and mood that was in the air. This did not surprise me. I find when you ask a chef that loves her job to cook for a special occasion, that chef will impress you with how hard they work and how deep they will dig inside themselves to give their personal best. And the Top Chef team did not disappoint. The day could not have been more perfect. Everyone ate well, had a lot of fun, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. It was bar none my most valuable day spent on the set of our beloved show, and one I will never ever forget. Thank you Bravo, for letting me have the pleasure and honor of presiding over the ceremony. And, thank you most of all to all the lovely couples who gave us the gift of sharing their love with us and trusting with such an important milestone to Top Chefs.