But it was months ago — June 2018 — that filming was underway when the tragic news broke that Anthony Bourdain had died in France. At that time, Padma revealed a glimpse into the mood on set when people learned about Bourdain's suicide, saying it was "really hard on all of us." But not much else about the experience has been known.
Now that the filming has wrapped and the winner has been revealed, we're learning more about what it was like for the Season 16 Cheftestants when they learned what had happened. The Feast sat down with the final three — Eric Adjepong, Sara Bradley, and Kelsey Barnard Clark — and asked them to detail their memories from that painful day.
Kelsey described the feeling as palpably "weird," and she intuitively knew, "something was going on." She even recalled feeling like, "We had thought we were in another war or something... We knew something really bad had happened."
Eric agreed, describing it as a "very eerie day."
He explained, "We were in a hotel and [the crew] essentially barricaded all the TVs and the explanation that we got was to keep our mind focused on the elimination challenge that was happening that night.... We found out later on that night that Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide."
They heard the news from Padma. "Padma had come up to our hotel and she was white faced," Eric recalled. "As soon as she opened the door, we knew that something pretty bad was happening. So when she told us, we all took a moment, looked at each other..."
But amid the tragic news, there was a poignant significance to the timing: It was earlier in the same day that Cheftestant Michelle Minori won a challenge that she had devoted to her father, who had also died by suicide.
"For me at least, everything that happened a few hours ago with Michelle" gave meaning to the events of the day, Eric recalled. He said that Michelle's dish and the story behind it had been "so beautiful, [she] really just showed her emotions. We had to deal with that as well."
"When I look back, I was very happy" for Michelle that day, he said. "Michelle deserved that challenge more than anybody deserved any challenge throughout the season and it was a beautiful dish."
For her part, Sara expressed gratitude that the season was about to create a more open dialogue about mental health and kitchen culture.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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