"A Walk in the Park" is how I would describe this reunion, in comparison to the drunken bloodbath so infamous from Season One. When production called me and asked for my participation in a TC reunion last month I agreed. I wasn't at all sure what to expect and who would be there, only knowing that it would be part of Andy Cohen's new hit talk series, "Watch What Happens".
My first Quickfire of the day was to pick up Dave Martin in Long Island City, a neighborhood in Queens a ways away from my apartment in Astoria. My car service driver was less than agreeable and had no idea how to get to Dave's apartment (neither did I). His GPS also failed so we drove around in circles as he yelled at me for not knowing where I was going (Hello? How is this my responsibility? I'm not the one getting paid to drive the car). Needless to say, we eventually picked up Dave and then headed back to Astoria to film at Kaufman Astoria Studios. Had I known this I would've skipped the car service altogether and slept for another hour, as Kaufman Astoria is a 15-minute walk from my apartment.
I got to say hello to some of my friends from production I hadn't seen since Miami, and I headed to the green room where Dave and Harold were already cracking open a bottle of champagne for mimosas. Mind you, it's maybe 8:30 a.m., but I suppose the orange juice makes it all A-okay. Lia shows up, as well as Sandee, Micah, and Clay, then Ilan and Midgely, in their barmitzvah outfits (Ilan with a leg of ham from Spain in tow), followed by Cliff and Sam. Everyone from Season One knows everyone from Season Two. Camille comes a little bit later because her car service was late in picking her up. Season Three looked happy to be inducted into the club, and soon most everyone is chugging mimosas. I'm probably the only person in the room who knows everybody. We get catered breakfast, and it's okay, outside of the suspiciously neon pink veggie bacon, which I had to try out of sheer curiosity. We all got mic'ed, then it was off to set.
I remember visiting the studios for CNBC out in Jersey one evening last winter to shoot a pilot episode of "Watch What Happens" with Andy and Josie. Andy's a natural. This reunion thing would be easy. It was amazing just how mellow it was. The set was great, if only for the fact that it was air-conditioned. The 90-degree set for our first reunion probably contributed to the animosity you all saw. Tom, Gail, Padma, and Ted took their seats next to Andy and basically we all took turns answering fan questions -- nothing out of the ordinary, with the possible exception of a reference to the "Bear/Bare" Club in relation to Tom.
I think my main observation throughout the shoot was that as all of the questions were asked, each chef responded calmly and clearly. Perhaps it was the group of chefs chosen for this reunion, or maybe it's the fact that most of us have accepted things as they are, for better or for worse. No controversy, just water under the bridge. For many of us, Top Chef has been an incredible stepping-stone. We know for sure it was an opportunity to learn more about ourselves as chefs and human beings. Watching some of the clips with people screaming and hurling insults at each other, I do not miss those situations, but I am sure those involved have hopefully gone through some sort of transformation after witnessing it on TV.
Then there are clips of the comedic good times that seem to bond us. I feel somehow old, and yet a bit blessed to bear witness to something that has grown in popularity and credibility. The fact that the show was nominated for 2 Emmy's last Thursday really made my weekend. Moving forward, I can be proud of my work with the show behind the camera while still attached to the notion that my friends and I from Season One really set the bar. Top Chef has a solid footing in pop culture, and with the announcement of Season Four, there seems to be no slowing down.
At the end of the day, the highlight for me was seeing everyone in the same room together. I don't get to see Harold all the time because we both work so much and it's nice to be able to sit down and have a drink with him and Dave, even if it is only 8:30 a.m. I see Sam and Ilan around town every now and then, but it's always great to catch up and find out who's been throwing their underwear at them. Midgely is a tremendous source of entertainment and it's even funnier to watch Cliff try to keep him in check. And it was nice for me to see the newest additions to our little club, Season Three contestants, who in some small way I consider my children (not that I have kids, because I don't). We all have something to laugh about and celebrate. Nothing scandalous, just good times, and that's all that counts.