That's right, Melissa and Gregory, who most recently competed as All Stars in Top Chef Season 17, have returned as two of the alums on the rotating panel of guest judges in the show's current Season 18, which premiered on April 1. Gregory, who is also a local of Top Chef's Season 18 city, Portland, Oregon, served as the guest judge for the very first Quickfire of the season, while Melissa took a seat next to Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons to judge Season 18's inaugural Elimination Challenge.
And who better to help determine this season's Top Chef than its most recent winner, Melissa, who took home the coveted title in Season 17? Even though life after winning Top Chef wasn't exactly what Melissa expected due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, this ended up being a very productive time.
"It's been quite a year, and I think professionally the quarantine has actually inspired me to do a lot of different things with my career that I never thought to do, like creating a merch line, creating hot sauces," she told BravoTV.com in the above video. "Just finding ways to connect people with my food, I think, a lot of it was evolving this year. I think that was the motto this year, was like learn how to evolve. But it's a lot [laughs]. It's a lot, let's be real. We need a break here."
Gregory was also hard at work on some new opportunities when everything changed last year. "You know, 2020 took a very sharp turn for me. But I had left my post at the restaurant I was at to be able to travel, to be able to research, to be able to finish writing my cookbook. And I was just really at home kind of working on all these projects when the world shut down. So I feel very fortunate and lucky, but I have a strong connection to all my colleagues and friends all across the country, so it was a really, really tough blow," he told BravoTV.com, adding that when George Floyd died in May 2020, "That really was a very, very tough week."
During this difficult time, Gregory said that he just tried "to stay as positive as possible, as hopeful as possible" and use his platform to raise awareness about these social issues. Of course, cooking has also remained an important outlet. "Cooking is something that brings me joy, it brings other people joy, so I'm finding outlets and trying to share that creativity," he said. "And I also feel just lucky in the end to be able to work on a project like Top Chef where we'll be able to show America a little piece of something creative, something that can bring others some joy, something that can bring a little bit of a sense of relief in a very, very crazy world."
Melissa shared that she much prefers being a guest judge on Top Chef than competing, adding that she is "retired from the game" after winning last season. "I've got to be real, I'm less stressed on this side of the table," she said. "I think it's such a great way for us as former competitors to be able to give the right advice to these younger chefs to kind of help mentor them through the game, because we know how it feels."
Gregory has learned a lot from his time competing on Top Chef that he hopes to impart upon Season 18's contestants. "I've just learned so much about myself. I've learned so much about food. I've learned about what type of chef I want to be," he said. "And now, I feel really grateful that I get the opportunity to help a new crop of chefs discover who they are as well."
But deciding who should pack their knives and go definitely hasn't been easy for Gregory. "It's interesting to be just really nitpicking sometimes at the Judges' Table to really find out who needs to go home, because I don't want anyone to go home, because I know how hard it can be," he said of serving as a guest judge in Season 18. "So, I'm excited to see everyone do really well."
Melissa also shared how much she is looking forward to seeing what the cheftestants create throughout the competition. "I'm really looking for the person that's gonna embrace these challenges and feel inspired by them," she explained. "A lot of this competition is growth. It's not just being a great chef from day one; it's how you evolve through that process. Have you evolved from challenge one to challenge 14? So I hope that we see that development and really see them blossom to really amazing chefs."
Want more Top Chef? New episodes air every Thursday at 8/7c or catch up on the Bravo app.
See the Top Chef Season 18 All Star judges in action, below.
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