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Bravo's Top Chef Producer Reveals How They Choose a Location for a New Season
Executive producer Doneen Arquines reveals her dream destinations for future seasons.
Name a culinary capital of the United States — or the world — and Bravo's Top Chef has likely filmed there, from Los Angeles to New York City to Las Vegas, Singapore to Mexico to Italy. So, how do producers decide where to take Top Chef next?
The Daily Dish spoke with Top Chef executive producer Doneen Arquines over the phone prior to the premiere of Season 17, which was filmed in L.A., and she said that "a couple of things" go into deciding where a new season of the culinary competition will take place.
"We’ve traveled all over the country, and at this point there’s not a ton of large cities left that we haven’t hit up before. So for the all-star season, it felt like we kind of needed some neutral territory, in a way. That’s why New York [where the first all-star Season 8 was located] and L.A. kind of feel that way. It’s not necessarily like leaning in on one cuisine or the other over one or the other. A lot of food processes [are] available that can be geared towards any style of cooking and what these chefs are trying to achieve. So I think that that was really important," Arquines explained. "Then we try and change it up. We don’t want to do two seasons back-to-back that are in the south, for instance. A lot of people want us to come to Atlanta, but we had just been in Kentucky. So we want to spread out the location diversity, too."
Top Chef went where it had never gone before in Season 17 as the final five cheftestants battled it out for culinary supremacy in Tuscany, Italy, the first time a finale had ever taken place in Europe (the Season 17 finale was filmed last fall prior to the coronavirus [COVID-19] pandemic). "It was amazing. I think that we had always wanted to go to Europe, and it was great that we were able to do that this year," Arquines told The Daily Dish. "We were able to travel to a couple of places in Italy and really feature some of the amazing local products that we’re all familiar with but maybe haven’t really tasted or experienced that fresh. So it was really interesting."
Another memorable location for Arquines was New Orleans, where Season 11 of Top Chef took place. "I still say [it's] one of my favorite cities to shoot in. It’s such a great food town," she said. "There [were so many] rich cultural elements to work with as well. That was one of my favorite seasons, for sure."
Arquines said they've "been pretty lucky" in that most of the locations haven't been too challenging to film in, although she recalled the cheftestants feeling the heat in Texas in Season 9 — literally. "When we were shooting in Texas, that was a fun season, but it was really hot when we were there, and that was hard, like physically," she said. "We had an episode where chefs ended up getting kind of heat stroke. It was not an easy season in that respect."
Looking toward the future, the list of dream locations for future seasons of Top Chef is long for Arquines. "I want to go to Paris [for the finale]. So I think that’s like number one for me. But for the United States, like I said, we haven’t been to Atlanta, we haven’t been to the Philadelphia area or Portland. A lot of the Midwestern cities, you know, Minneapolis, Detroit," Aruines said. "There’s still a lot of untapped cities that we haven’t been to that I think are all valid and interesting to explore."
Relive more of the Season 17 finalists' adventures in Italy, below.