As of the time of this writing, 16 seasons of Top Chef have aired and this popular “reality” competition series isn’t showing any signs of slowing down anytime soon. In fact, Top Chef is so critically acclaimed that the show has earned several Emmy Award nominations over the years.
Despite the fact that it seems to be a given that Top Chef is an excellently produced show, that certainly doesn’t mean it hasn’t had its own problems in the past. Actually, the show has been the subject of a number of controversies that those involved with its production would no doubt like to sweep under the rug. With that in mind, it is time to get to this list of 15 things about Top Chef they don’t want anyone to know.
15 Padma Lakshmi Appeared in one of the Worst Movies of All-Time
Actually the second person to host Top Chef, when Padma Lakshmi replaced season one’s Katie Lee it was a gigantic upgrade for the show, to say the very least. What most fans likely don’t realize, however, is that it was an equally gigantic upgrade for Padma as well since she’d previously appeared in one of the worst movies of all-time, Mariah Carey’s Glitter.
14 Level of Control
In perhaps the most controversial incident in Top Chef history, contestant Marcel Vigneron was held down against his will so a fellow contestant could shave his head. Interestingly enough, that disturbing moment may never have happened if the show’s producers hadn’t been so controlling. That is the case because according to Vigneron, they wouldn’t let him get a professional haircut during the filming process which he wanted to do.
While it may seem like Padma Lakshmi has a pretty cushy job, as it turns out, the show actually is a detriment to their health, at least for a while. As for why that is the case, Padma Lakshmi revealed to The Cut that she consumes 5,000 – 8,000 calories a day while the show is filming. As a result, she has to “buy clothes in three different sizes so that you don't notice my clothes getting tight.”
Of course, she always looks gorgeous but that is a lot to gain in six weeks. On top of that, when you really think about it, she can’t be the only judge this happens to either.
12 Ilan Hall’s Utter Defeat
During each episode of Top Chef, it is made pretty clear that not only is winning a season supposed to do huge things for a contestant’s career but just competing on the show can too. However, season two’s winner Ilan Hall’s career hit a major speed bump shortly after leaving the show. Opting to open his own restaurant, The Gorbals, it was closed only a week after its debut when the health department shut it down. Only able to reopen months later, it has since closed permanently.
11 More People Weigh In Than It Seems
During every episode of Top Chef, viewers get a glimpse of the judge's table where the future prospects of all the contestants are decided upon. Of course, it should be pretty obvious that we don’t get to see the entire conversation. However, it likely will surprise most viewers that one of the show’s camera operators who is known as T-Bone also gets asked to weigh in if the judges can’t come to a consensus. That seems off since we have to assume he hasn’t tasted the food.
10 Graham Elliot’s Business Practices
Ever since Graham Elliot became one of Top Chef’s judges, he has come across as a kind and supportive person. However, it certainly seems like several of his former employees see him very differently. After all, in 2012 they sued their former boss for operating his business like a “systemic scheme to deprive them of regular and overtime compensation”. Ultimately, Elliott settled out of court and paid them an undisclosed sum.
9 Tricky Editing
Once one of Top Chef’s most popular guest judges, it now seems likely that Josh Besh will never return after 25 of his employees accused him of either abuse or assault. In fact, prior to that news breaking, Besh had filmed an episode for Top Chef: Colorado but producers sneakily edited him out of it entirely.
8 Product Placement
Due to the fact that TV is a business, there is a long history of “reality” shows like Top Chef featuring a certain amount of product placement. That said, at one point Top Chef took it to the extreme as a 2008 study documented 9,316 instance of product placement on the show. For comparisons sake, only two other shows in the entire TV landscape at that time included more product placement according to that same study.
7 Two-Time Contestant Goes Down in Flames
Once considered to be one of Top Chef’s biggest success stories, Mike Isabella put together a business empire for himself after competing in Season 6 and 8. No longer on top of the world, Isabella has now filed for bankruptcy after his alcohol abuse, a harassment lawsuit against him, and his dubious business decisions all came to light.
6 Some Critiques Are Hard to Take
As we all know, Top Chef is a TV show which means that it is of the utmost importance to its ongoing success that people tune in to see it. For that reason, the show has a long history of bringing in non-food related celebrities to judge the contestant’s food. However, season 16’s three finalists all agreed that their critiques were hard to take given their lack of expertise.
5 Not Exactly Friends
Like a lot of television co-stars, Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio have been the subject of feud rumors. In fact, at one point someone who claimed to be a former contestant on the show took part in a Reddit AMA and revealed the two didn’t get along. Of course, it’s hard to take that too seriously. However, during an interview with Time from 2009, an otherwise talkative Colicchio was asked if Lakshmi’s personality was different off the air and he replied, “no comment on that”.
For the most part, people who work on “reality” shows are pretty cagey when it comes to any aspects of the show that may call into question how genuine it is. On the other hand, Tom Colicchio was surprisingly upfront about one instance of the show being manipulated during an interview with Huffington Post. According to Tom, season 9 winner Paul Qui was so talented that they “had to dumb down how good he was because it would've been pretty obvious that he was running away with everything”.
3 Retakes Happen
While viewers clearly know that Top Chef is a heavily edited show, we think they mostly assume that the footage they see was all captured at the moment. According to a Nola.com article, however, they discovered during a set visit that the judge’s remarks often were “retakes, captured after the contestants are dismissed from the scene”.
2 Disgraced Former Winner
As we touched on earlier in this list, Tom Colicchio once revealed to Huffington Post that Paul Qui was supremely talented. What we didn’t mention at that time is that in 2016, Qui disgraced himself when he was arrested and charged with assault after an incident he admitted took place with his then-girlfriend and her son.
It should be noted, Qui claimed he only “knocked her and her son out of the way” so he shouldn’t have been charged with assault. However, his girlfriend’s injuries don’t seem consistent with his version of events.
1 Personalities Seem to Matter
By now you already know that someone who claimed to be a former Top Chef contestant once took part in a Reddit AMA where they provided information that ultimately seems to be true. Due to the validity of their other claim, we have to take it seriously when they claimed that people with “a big personality” are chosen to go further for that reason.
Sources: imdb.com, mentalfloss.com, mashed.com, ew.com, thecut.com, eonline.com, eater.com