The Bravo's Top Chef judges open up about their biggest hopes going into the new season.
When it came time to film Season 18 of Bravo's Top Chef in Portland, Oregon, the cast, crew, and cheftestants went into the new season in the midst of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. As has been noted previously, many protocols were put in place to ensure everyone involved in the production remained safe during the shoot.
Before the season began shooting, Bravo Insider learned from Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio about what they were most looking forward to when it came time to gather for the new season. And while the world they were filming in may be completely different from seasons prior, what they knew wouldn’t be different was the skill level the contestants would bring to the table challenge after challenge and the tastiness of the food — as well as the camaraderie that would be there on set week after week.
“I think, also, I’m anxious to see all my friends and my colleagues,” Padma told Bravo Insider in an exclusive interview that took place prior to filming Season 18, noting that filming the season would be "about making sure we can just ensure everyone’s safety."
She continued, “We’ve all been in quarantine, so just being productive, getting back into the groove of things, meeting the contestants, getting to know them — that is something I look forward to. I mean, of course I love eating all the food on Top Chef because it’s so high caliber these days, but beyond the food, I’m most excited about the human connection.”
Tom noted in a separate interview with Bravo Insider prior to filming, ”It just feels good to be able to get out there and work. I’m not looking to see anything [in the food]. That’s what’s kind of neat about it. I’m not expecting anything. I am expecting, you know, great food by a bunch of up-and-coming chefs that are gonna do some exciting stuff, and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
He added about filming in a pandemic that "it’s hard to ignore the elephant in the room," but added, "I don’t see that changing the way we judge food on the show. I still have my criteria that I use to judge food, and I’m sure Gail [Simmons] and Padma aren’t really gonna change. So, from that aspect, I don’t see it changing much."
In fact, at the time the interview took place, Tom was just most looking forward to eating food cooked by someone else. “Just having somebody else cook food for me is gonna be a real treat [laughs]. That’s it, I’m just there for the food, yep. I don’t have to cook and clean my kitchen? That’s awesome,” he said. “I’m getting tired of my own food. So, I’m just happy to have [someone else’s food], you know? It’ll be exciting.”
While the standards for judging food remained the same as always, certain precautions were taken in filming this season unlike in seasons past with new protocols put into place. Those protocols included a production bubble, judges did not share dishes, and the judges were also kept six feet apart at a new U-shaped Judges' Table. 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" had been put in place, according to a press release last September. "The health and safety of the cast and crew is the priority of Bravo & Magical Elves on all of its shows," the press release added.
"There’s a balance, and I think we’ll find it," Tom shared with Bravo Insider before filming.
As Padma noted, it was all about "find[ing] creative solutions to challenges that COVID has presented us with. But at the end of the day, we all really feel proud of the show. We all really want to get back to work. And we will find a way. Producers always find a way."
You can hear more from Padma and Tom about the new season, below.
Season 18 of Top Chef premieres on April 1 at 8/7c. Check out the trailer, below.
For instant access, as well as more exclusive content featuring your favorite Bravolebs, sign up to be a Bravo Insider.