Bravo’s cutthroat cooking competition is back with 15 new chefs vying for the coveted title of Top Chef. Like other reality TV shows, Top Chef Season 18 will look a little different from past seasons; while the structure of the show remains the same, the production implemented various COVID-19 safety measures during filming.
“Like everyone else, all of us were anxious to get back to work,” host, judge, and producer Padma Lakshmi told Variety. “But we wanted to make sure that we can do the show, yes, keeping everyone safe — but also not diminishing the quality of the show that our audience is used to.”
Top Chef has an extraordinarily large crew of about 150 people, which required the departments to break up into separate zones and work at different times. The judges will no longer share the dishes when they taste, and the competitors will have to discard their tasting spoons and use their own spice containers. “They’re definitely working cleaner and washing hands a lot more,” showrunner Doneen Arquines said. “We just have to make the time to do those things.”
Ultimately, they’re hoping that this show will help all these chefs get back on their feet again. After struggling to keep their businesses open during the pandemic, Bravo executive Matt Reichman said Top Chef is a way for these chefs to “get their name out there” and build up an audience again. “And once — fingers crossed — everything turns around in the world and they can get back up and running, they’ll thrive,” he said.
Here’s everything else to know about the season.
Where was Top Chef Season 18 filmed?
Season 18 filmed in September and October 2020 in Portland, Oregon. “It was a city that we’d always wanted to come to because the food scene was very vibrant here,” Lakshmi said. While they chose Portland largely because of its outdoor scenery, the fires in September and the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests meant they were constantly shifting schedules and deciding whether they were filming indoors or outdoors.
As for where they stayed, all of the contestants and crew lived in a bubble at a Portland hotel that had no other guests. The judges all stayed at separate Airbnbs.
The Top Chef Judges
Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons return to host Season 18. To comply with safety measures, instead of having guest judges flying in, they created an “all-star judging panel” made up of former Top Chef contestants who have become famous since the show. This includes chefs like Richard Blais, Tiffany Derry, Kwame Onwuachi, and Brooke Williamson.
“I have to tell you, it’s been such fun, and such a godsend to have these alumni with us,” Lakshmi said. “Otherwise, it’s the same three people.”
Top Chef Season 18 Contestants
Born in Japan and raised in Seattle, Shota Nakajima is the chef and owner of Taku in Seattle. At 18, he moved to Osaka, Japan for a time to learn about Japanese cuisine from Michelin-star chef Yasuhiko Sakamoto. He’s been a James Beard Award semi-finalist for three years in a row, and his goal is to create approachable Japanese comfort food.
Richmond, Virginia, native Brittanny Anderson is the chef and co-owner of four establishments: Metzger Bar and Butchery, Brenner Pass, and Black Lodge in Richmond and Leni in Washington, D.C. After attending the French Culinary Institute in New York City, she worked her way up to sous-chef at Northern Spy Food Co. in Manhattan. In 2014, she opened the German-influenced Metzger, and later a modern European restaurant, a seafood distribution business, a curated cheese company, and a coffee shop and bar. She’s a two-time James Beard Award semi-finalist.
A Dominican-American hailing from Washington Heights, New York, Nelson German is the executive chef and owner of both alaMar Kitchen and Sobre Mesa Afro-Latino cocktail lounge in Oakland. He trained at the NY Art Institute and worked his way up from line cook to executive chef at New York restaurants like Gramercy Park Hotel and Citarella. When he and his fiancée relocated to the San Francisco Bay Area, he developed a love for California cuisine. His food is influenced by his Dominican and African roots.
Roscoe Hall is a chef and artist living in Birmingham, Alabama. He worked his way up from a dishwasher at a small local restaurant to a line cook at Chez Panisse, where he trained for two years under Alice Waters. He learned various cuisines at restaurants in St. Louis and Portland before working under Chef David Chang at Momofuku Saam Bar in New York City. He later served as executive chef for Rodney Scott’s BBQ in Birmingham and is now a culinary director for Post Office Pies. He’s also working on an art exhibition.
Born in Columbus, Ohio, to immigrant parents from Bangladesh, Avishar Barua is the executive chef and general manager of Service Bar in Columbus. After getting bachelor’s degrees in biology and psychology, he decided to pursue his true passion for cooking. He attended culinary school, and then trained under Wylie Dufresne at Michelin-starred WD~50 in New York City. He returned to Ohio to open Service Bar for Middle West Spirits, a local grain to glass distiller, where he has since gained national recognition.
Chris Viaud is the chef and owner of Greenleaf and Culture, both located in Milford, New Hampshire. After completing culinary school, he worked at the modern French restaurant Deuxave, where he learned from executive chef Chris Coombs, Top Chef alum Adrienne Mosier, and chef Stefanie Bui. At 28 years old, he opened Greenleaf, followed a year later by Culture, a bakery that produces artisanal breads, sandwiches, and pastries while supporting local farms.
Born in Costa Rica but raised in New York, Byron Gomez is the executive chef of 7908 in Aspen, Colorado. Gomez does not have a formal culinary education but has worked his way through the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants like Café Boulud, Atera, and Eleven Madison Park. He later decided to settle in Aspen, where he enjoys seasonal activities such as cycling, snowboarding, and surfing.
Gabriel Pascuzzi is the chef and owner of three restaurants in Portland: Mama Bird, Stacked Sandwich Shop, and Feel Good. He apprenticed at his uncle’s restaurant in Big Fork, Montana, as a teen and went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in culinary arts from Johnson & Wales University. He then worked in New York City for Daniel Boulud and Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio at Colicchio & Sons. He opened his first restaurant, Stacked Sandwich Shop, in 2017; in 2019, he opened Mama Bird six months before the pandemic hit. He was named Eater Portland’s chef of the year in 2017.
Jamie Tran is the chef and owner of Las Vegas’ The Black Sheep, which serves casual modern Vietnamese American food in an elevated environment. She graduated from San Francisco State with a business degree, and then moved to Las Vegas to be a part-time line-cook at Charlie Palmer’s Aureole. She eventually became executive sous-chef and was later recruited for the executive chef role at DB Brasserie by Daniel Boulud. After opening The Black Sheep, Eater Las Vegas honored her with chef of the year and restaurant of the year.
Sasha Grumman went to the French Culinary Institute in New York and spent her last three months at ALMA culinary school in Parma, Italy. After staging at the Michelin-starred Giuda Ballerino in Rome, she graduated and moved to San Francisco to work at Delfina Restaurant. After cooking for notable chefs in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Austin, she became executive chef of Rosalie Italian Soul. During the pandemic, she started a focaccia business that she hopes to take national.
A track-and-field Olympian-turned-chef, Dawn Burrell is the partner and executive chef of Lucille’s Hospitality Group in Texas. After competing in the 2000 Summer Olympics, Burrell attended culinary school at The Art Institute of Houston. She went on to become the sous-chef at the restaurant Uchiko in Austin. She then became executive chef at the modern Southern restaurant Kulture and was nominated for a James Beard award for “Best Chef: Texas” in 2020. During the pandemic, she joined Lucille’s Hospitality Group to explore Afro-Asian cuisine.
Sara Hauman is the head chef of Soter Vineyards in Oregon. At 22, Sara worked with Brandon Jew at Bar Agricole in San Francisco, and then at famed restaurant Asador Etxebarri in Spain in 2013. She soon became head chef at Huxley in San Francisco and was listed on Zagat’s “30 Under 30” list. She was also a James Beard semi-finalist for “Rising Star Chef” in 2016 and 2017.
Maria Mazon is the executive chef and owner of BOCA Tacos y Tequila in Tucson, Arizona. Born in Tucson but raised in Sonora, Mexico, her experimental take on classic Mexican fare has earned her local and national accolades. In 2020, she became a James Beard Award semi-finalist for “Best Chef in the Southwest Region.” When not at the restaurant, she loves cooking for her wife, Lilly, and their 12-year-old son.
Gabe Erales was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. He began working in kitchens at 15 and went on to complete culinary school at Le Cordon Bleu Austin. Passionate about Mexican cuisine, he’s worked for chefs like the late Miguel Ravago at The Fonda San Miguel, Rene Ortiz at La Condesa, and Jesse Griffiths of Dai Due. Recently, he was executive chef of Comedor Restaurant in downtown Austin. He is currently working on a new restaurant concept that he hopes to announce soon.
Detroit native Kiki Louya is a chef, writer, food activist, and restaurant consultant. She graduated from Le Cordon Bleu and The University of Michigan, and has given lectures about food, farming, and entrepreneurship to students at Yale and Georgetown. The New York Times named her one of “16 Black Chefs Changing Food in America” because of her passion for local agriculture, fair pay, and social justice. She was chef and owner at Detroit’s Folk & The Farmer’s Hand before she stepped down in March 2020. Today, she can be found tending her wild vegetable garden alongside her husband and two rescue pit bulls.