‘Top Chef’: Padma, Tom and Gail reflect on the evolution of the competition for 15 years (exclusive)

Released for the first time in March 2006, The best chef has grown into a long-running, ever-visible series that has produced 17 seasons, as well as several spinoffs. Its season 18, which premieres April 1, takes place in Portland as the world slowly emerges from the coronavirus pandemic with Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons returning to find the next great chef.

In the 15 years that the Emmy-winning reality competition has been on the air, the show has certainly evolved in many ways; This season, especially, will see new variations of popular challenges that compete with COVID-19 security protocols. But the only thing that has changed for the best Lakshmi, Coliccho and Simmons tell ET is a shift away from “drama” and more of a focus on culinary excellence.

“Drama occurs naturally in competition. You don’t need to make it, ”says Colicchio, who thinks that early in the show, there was“ too much reality, ”with stories built around Ed’s missing pea puree believed to have been stolen by Alex in season 7.“ Nobody I steal it. The other chef left him in the kitchen, “the judge continues, adding,” Looking back at seasons 1, 2, and 3, you see all the drama. ”

But the most controversial and reality TV-like moment was when Cliff, Elia, Ilan and Sam tried to shave Marcel’s head in season 2. “I never imagined someone holding another person and threatening to cut their hair.” says the judge. .

Now, Colicchio adds, “In fact, we now have a better balance of those things … the show is about the actual cooking competition and less about the drama, which is better for us because frankly, we don’t know or care. for the drama that is happening. ” happening behind the scenes. “

“There is a difference between narration and reality, right?” Simmons offers. “And I think we’ve come to realize that the narration about these contestants is what people want to see a lot more.”

And as the focus of the show evolved, so have the chefs in attendance. Not only are they acting more professional (“The chefs who watch the show are being very careful not to be that guy,” suggests Colicchio), but all 17 competitors are on top of their game, with season 18 marking the first. time there are no sous-chefs.

It’s a long way from the early seasons, which featured a lot of home cooks and part-time chefs. “We soon realized what our audience wanted to see,” says Simmons, that all the moving actors “were either a second chef or an executive chef. And from that moment on, the talent is higher and higher. ”

He adds that now, “these chefs already have what it takes and it’s about elevating them and finding the best of the best.”

That said, Simmons also says that the caliber of food is unparalleled. “In the last eight or 10 years that we have been doing this program, we are not choosing the worst dish, we are choosing the best dish … People are rarely wrong anymore and we hardly ever eat terrible food.”

And because every season of The best chef now lets chefsstants really shine – from a focus on their past experiences to how they’re doing on the show, many more have become stars in their own right, whether they win the competition or not. Among some of the most famous personalities are Antonia Lofaso, Brooke Williamson, Carla Hall, Fabio Viviani and Richard Blais, who are among the many returning winners and fan favorites who serve as an expanded panel of judges in the season. 18.

“What the show does, if you stay long enough, is tell people your story in a professional way, right?” Lakshmi says, explaining that over the course of six weeks of rapid fires and elimination challenges, “it shows you a very particular side of these chefs. Not just their professionalism and creativity, but also where they come from, what their philosophies are and how they handle pressure. ”

She adds: “Anyone The best chef The contestant you talk to will tell you the same thing, it is one of the most important and fundamental things they have done in their career, regardless of where they are in their career, because it tests you in a way that really can. ” be challenged elsewhere. “

And as pioneering as this show has been, while also becoming a mainstay in the pop culture zeitgeist, Simmons now says, “There was a time when we really didn’t know where this would take us and, thank goodness, it resounded. We work very hard to do something that everyone is proud of. ”

Top Chef: Portland premieres Thursday, April 1 at 8 pm ET / PT on Bravo.

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