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There’s no question that Bravo’s Top Chef Season 19 contestants have faced more than a few culinary challenges. But none were met with the struggles cheftestant Jackson Kalb dealt with this season, as he competed without the ability to taste or smell, long-term side effects after contracting COVID-19 only weeks prior to the competition.
Recently, Top Chef judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons reflected on the difficulties Jackson faced having to navigate the competition without the ability to smell or taste, and also shared what they noticed about Jackson’s struggles during Season 19, when The Daily Dish caught up with both judges on the red carpet of the recent NBCUniversal upfront.
“I mean, [it was] wild,” Gail said at the May 16 event, sharing her reaction to Jackson competing without his sense of taste or smell. She went on to mention how impressed she was that Jackson “did as well as he did” under such unprecedented circumstances.
Gail also commended the fact that Jackson was able to demonstrate his impressive culinary abilities during the famed Restaurant Wars challenge, remarking “how far he could’ve gone” had he been able to use his senses of taste and smell during the competition.
Additionally, Tom noted that the other chefs made an effort to lend Jackson some support during the competition, saying his fellow cheftestants “gave him feedback” and “actually pitched in and helped him” as Jackson continued to compete while faced with such a difficult setback.
Tom went on to tell The Daily Dish that the way Jackson’s fellow Season 19 contestants provided feedback on his dishes “really showed the spirit of cooperation” among the group: “It was great to see.”
Recently, Jackson opened up about not having his sense of taste or smell while competing on Top Chef in an interview with People magazine. “It was mind-bending and weird, and I still don’t really know what anything tasted like that I put up,” he told People, adding, “But I guess my instincts were better than I thought they were.”
Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi told People in a separate interview how the judges were eventually made privy to Jackson’s struggles. “I think at some point he did mention it in judges’ table,” Padma said. “But if you’re an experienced cook, you know what something is supposed to taste like. So, he didn’t make a big deal of it.”
The Top Chef Season 19 finale kicks off on Thursday, May 26, at 8/7c.
Watch new episodes of Top Chef Thursdays at 8/7c and streaming on Peacock. Plus, catch up with the Bravo app.
— With Reporting by McKenzie Jean-Philippe
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