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The Daily Dish Top Chef

Gabe Erales Reveals How His Restaurant Bacalar Is a "First of Its Kind" & Teases His Next Project

Top Chef Season 18 winner Gabe Erales opens up about his new Austin eatery's ties to his family and previews what else he's working on these days.

By Jocelyn Vena

In the weeks since Gabe Erales opened his new Austin restaurant, Bacalar, back in September, he shared a progress update on how it's been going, noting that he and his team are still "still gathering our momentum and getting our wheels underneath us."

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But the journey to opening night and beyond started long before September 2023 and has truly been a labor of love for Gabe. You see, Bacalar is a, well, love letter to his family's heritage.

"Obviously, this project has been a long time coming, And I think it's really the first of its kind in the U.S. There's really not many restaurants that have taken such a laser focus on the cuisine of the [Yucatan] peninsula in Mexico," the Top Chef Season 18 winner recently shared in an interview with BravoTV.com in October.

"My family having such deep roots there, it's been very, very special to me. And it's also been a very interesting journey for me to really understand all of the different diasporas and influences of the peninsula because it makes it almost feel like it's not really even Mexico," he added. "It's a different part of the world. The diversity is really, really unique. And, while there are a lot of traditional dishes that are Mexican, when you dive deep down into them, they don't feel 100 percent Mexican, which is what I think is, is really cool."

The restaurant's cuisine isn't the only way he was able to connect with his family's roots the last few years while designing the menu of the eatery, which includes all sorts of delicacies from the Yucatan. In the leadup to finally opening the restaurant, Gabe got the chance to spend time with his wife and kids and share with them the culinary history of his culture and family.

Gabe Erales in his chef's uniform for Top Chef.

"I think one of the most special things about it was all of my [research and development] trips in the last two years were also family trips. So, taking my family with me and sharing this with them, telling them the history — that was more than research for the restaurant. It was also implanting those memories in the heads of my children to know where they come from. It was, was really cool. We'd be in Merida, my parents met at the University of Merida when they were studying college. So showing them things like that was really, really special," he said. "And, going to the beaches and the coast and having seafood there fresh out of the ocean was really, really cool. And just getting inspired and seeing things that my kids liked to eat and sharing that with them was really, really cool."

In fact, other members of Gabe's family also couldn't hide their excitement for this project. "I come from a big family. I have five brothers and a sister. All of the things that are on the menu, all have emotional ties to all my family. So they all get real excited when they're able to come to the restaurant and eat these things that kind of jokingly talk about my mom not making for us anymore," he said. "It's really cool to have those special food memories and share it with other people beyond my immediate family."

Next up, Gabe is in the midst of opening up another restaurant in the Washington D.C. area that is "more of a Tex-Mex driven concept." He added, "So definitely have my hands full with that."

He also works with his Niños de Maiz foundation. Per his website, Niños de Maiz, seeks "to empower Hispanics for career growth through elite culinary education."

"To create educational and career opportunities for underprivileged Hispanic immigrants by creating a revenue source for secondary education at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA)," the site adds, noting that it focuses on core values including diversity, ambition, honesty, and community.

Speaking of family, he has plans to get in more family time with the holiday season coming up. "We have traditions that we kind of stick through," he said while speaking to BravoTV.com of the types of culinary traditions of his family, which pay homage to "our ties to living in El Paso... I wouldn't say it's overly complex. It's more of like tradition."

"For me, a lot of it is really just about getting the kids involved in helping out," he noted. And he added that his kids love for hanging out in the kitchen extends to other times of the year. "Definitely. [The kids] wanting to be in the kitchen and helping out, that's something that they all really, really enjoy, and we've built a lot of memories doing," he said. "So it's fun to see them really get after it and, and want to be involved."

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