Production on Season 18 of Bravo's Top Chef is currently underway in Portland, Oregon. However, things are being done a bit differently in these unprecedented times due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
A "comprehensive health and safety plan developed in accordance with CDC guidance, all state and local orders, as well as NBCUniversal’s own safety guidelines" has been put in place, according to a press release announcing the location of the new season on September 28. "The health and safety of the cast and crew is the priority of Bravo & Magical Elves on all of its shows," the press release reads.
Top Chef executive producer Doneen Arquines also recently told The Oregonian, “We’ve created this production bubble, and it seems to be working so far.”
A rotating judging and dining panel made up of Top Chef All Star winners and finalists is also a part of that "production bubble." “It’s a big bubble, and we have pods in the bubble,” Gregory Gourdet, who returns this season as part of that All Star panel, told The Oregonian of staying in a Portland hotel with other cast and crew while filming this season. “We get tested every two days.”
Head judge Tom Colicchio shared how this season of Top Chef will look a little different because of the pandemic. “We can’t do the big events anymore, and those were always a lot of fun," he told The Oregonian. "But we’re doing stuff outdoors, at local vineyards, local farms, and things like that.”
He also spoke about some of the protocol that has been put in place during filming. “We’re pretty locked down. Even though we’re in a bubble, on the set we’re still in masks, and social distancing," Tom said. "The only time we’re not in masks is when the chefs are cooking. So far, it’s been pretty seamless.”
However, Arquines admitted that filming with these safety measures has been "a little bit trickier" than on past seasons of Top Chef. “We’re needing to be at locations longer, because we need to sanitize, and make sure that everything is safe and clean," she explained. "We’re taking things a little bit slower than we have in the past. We can be in locations when they’re closed, so people that aren’t tested aren’t around. The kitchen is going to be larger and wider to allow for more social distancing for our crews, and the chefs. Our judges' table is much larger, to keep more distance from everybody.”
Arquines also confirmed that while they're still working with Whole Foods, we won't be seeing the chefs frantically shopping in the store, but rather "doing curbside pickup."
Tom, who co-founded the Independent Restaurant Coalition to help the struggling restaurant industry during this time, told The Oregonian that he hopes filming Top Chef in Portland this season will help the city's culinary scene. "Typically, whenever we shoot in a city or a state, they usually get fans that show up and want to see restaurants that were featured,” he said. “I think that’s really going to help when things open up again. I think Portland and Oregon will see a nice bump.”
Gregory, who is based in Portland, added that he hopes to see his city in a better place by the time Season 18 of Top Chef airs in 2021. “I hope we can be in the process of rebuilding by the time the show airs,” he said. “I think Portland’s in a very heavy place, and it’s a long winter coming. But I think we all need to stay as focused as possible on how we get back on our feet.”
Gregory will be joined by fellow Top Chef alums Richard Blais, Carrie Baird, Nina Compton, Tiffany Derry, Melissa King, Kristen Kish, Edward Lee, Kwame Onwuachi, Amar Santana, Dale Talde, and Brooke Williamson on the rotating judging and dining panel. Judges' Table will also see the return of host Padma Lakshmi and judge Gail Simmons.
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