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The Daily Dish Producer Secrets

Here's the One Thing You Won't See the Bravo's Top Chef Judges Do "At All" in Season 18

Top Chef is doing things a little differently in the new season.

By Laura Rosenfeld
Your First Look at Top Chef Portland!

Filming a season of Bravo's Top Chef is never an easy task, but Season 18 provided its own set of challenges as it took place last fall amid the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

How to Watch

Watch Top Chef Season 21 Wednesdays at 9/8c on Bravo and next day on Peacock.

Variety recently took readers behind the scenes of filming Top Chef Season 18 in Portland, Oregon and noted many of the protocols that were put in place to ensure everyone involved in the production remained safe.

In the past, we have seen judges Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons share dishes the cheftestants prepared during Quickfire and elimination challenges. However, that is one thing we definitely won't see them do in the new season. “We do not share plates at all this season,” Padma told Variety.

In addition to the judges being kept six feet apart at a new U-shaped Judges' Table, Padma also noted to the publication that because the set had to be socially distant, “Sadly for me, during the Quickfires, I no longer go around the room to [the chefs'] stations."

Production also upped sanitary protocols among the chefs, such as each contestant having their own individual spice containers instead of sharing them. “They’re definitely working cleaner and washing hands a lot more,” showrunner Doneen Arquines told Variety. “We just have to make the time to do those things.”

Departments were even broken up into separate zones that worked at different times. “I’m really close to my culinary producer, Sandee Birdsong,” Padma said of the Top Chef Season 3 contestant who has since become a producer on the show. “I’m not allowed to hang out with her! I talk to her on the phone, and I wave to her across the set.”

The judges flew into Portland privately and lived in Airbnbs with COVID testing done every other day, according to Variety. The cheftestants and crew lived in a bubble at a Portland hotel that had no other guests.

The pandemic also impacted the challenges for the season since inviting outside diners was not an option. Instead, the public was able to taste the cheftestants' food through a socially distant drive-in movie theater challenge. The chefs also got to give back, feeding hundreds of frontline workers.

The fan-favorite Restaurant Wars challenge had to be tweaked in the upcoming season as well. This time, the chefs must execute a micro-restaurant concept with a cohesive seven-course tasting menu.

For the first time ever, Top Chef Season 18 will feature an elite rotating judging and dining panel made up of all-star winners, finalists, and favorites, including Richard BlaisCarrie BairdNina ComptonTiffany DerryGregory GourdetMelissa KingKristen KishEdward LeeKwame OnwuachiAmar SantanaDale Talde, and Brooke Williamson.

We'll also see appearances by José Andrés, Massimo Bottura, Gabriel Rucker, and Alice Waters this season. Portlandia stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein also stop by the Top Chef Kitchen for a Quickfire Challenge.

Padma applauded everyone involved in the production of Top Chef for successfully filming Season 18 at a time when wildfires across Oregon also presented its challenges. "We did it! Through COVID, fires and everything else. And it’s a great season! Thank you to my @bravotopchef crew for working so hard to keep us all safe. We got through it without anyone getting sick," Padma wrote in a post on Instagram on February 8. "We love you Portland and were so happy to shoot there in support of the city and the BLM protesters for civil rights."

Season 18 kicks off with a new batch of 15 cheftestants vying for the coveted title of Top Chef in a supersized premiere episode on Thursday, April 1 at 8/7c. Last Chance Kitchen, which is hosted by Tom, also returns on Thursday, April 8 and will follow Season 18's eliminated chefs as they go head-to-head to try to cook their way back into the competition. The latest installment of Last Chance Kitchen will be available at the conclusion of each week's episode of Top Chef on, on demand, or wherever you stream Top Chef.

Get your first look at the new season of Top Chef in the official trailer for Season 18, above.

Want more Top Chef? Catch up on the Bravo app.

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