The restaurant industry has never been so in need of a boost, which makes the announcement that “Top Chef” will return April 1, with a supersized episode, especially welcome news.
Even better, Season 18 of the Emmy-winning Bravo series is based in Portland, and will spotlight Oregon’s vibrant food scene, with stops at the Hood River Fruit Loop and Tillamook Creamery, a challenge featuring ingredients Oregon Trail travelers might have used, and a surf-and-turf challenge that pays tribute to the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Each season, “Top Chef” brings together talented culinary professionals, to compete in challenges that test their creativity, ability and expertise. Padma Lakshmi hosts, and she will again be joined by head judge Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons.
In Season 18, Portland will be, as the press materials say, “a picturesque backdrop and culinary inspiration,” as the chefs compete in challenges that include “celebrating Portland’s Pan-African cuisine,” feeding hundreds of frontline workers and crabbing on the Oregon Coast in a tribute to culinary icon and Oregonian James Beard.
In Season 18, the James Beard Award-winning series had to make some changes, to adapt to safety measures meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Instead of flying people in and out, for the first time, this year’s “Top Chef” features a rotating judging and dining panel, including all-star winners, finalists and viewer favorites.
Among the judges and diners are Gregory Gourdet, the Portland chef and “Top Chef” veteran; Richard Blais; Carrie Baird; Nina Compton; Tiffany Derry; Melissa King; Kristen Kish; Edward Lee; Kwame Onwuachi; Amar Santana; Dale Talde; and Brooke Williamson.
Season 18 will also include appearances by José Andrés, Massimo Bottura, Portland’s own Gabriel Rucker, and Alice Waters. “Portlandia” stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein will also appear at the “Top Chef” kitchen for a Quickfire challenge.
The chefs who will compete on Season 18 include two Portlanders. Here’s the lineup: Brittanny Anderson of Richmond, Va.; Avishar Barua of Columbus, Ohio; Dawn Burrell of Houston, Texas; Gabe Erales of Austin, Texas; Nelson German of Oakland, Calif.; Byron Gomez of Aspen, Colo.; Sasha Grumman of Houston, Texas; Roscoe Hall of Birmingham, Ala.; Sara Hauman of Portland; Kiki Louya of Detroit, Mich.; Maria Mazon of Tucson, Ariz.; Shota Nakajima of Seattle; Gabriel Pascuzzi of Portland; Jamie Tran of Las Vegas; and Chris Viaud of Milford, N.H.
Hauman is head chef for Soter Vineyards, in Carlton. Pascuzzi is the chef and owner of Portland restaurants Mama Bird, Stacked Sandwich Shop and Feel Good.
The “Top Chef” winner will earn prizes including $250,000 furnished by S.Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral Water, a feature in “FOOD & WINE” magazine and an appearance at the annual “FOOD & WINE” Classic in Aspen.