I have one major problem with the latest season of Top Chef on Bravo, and it’s that I want everyone to win. Obviously that can’t happen. The whole point of Top Chef is to pit the nation’s most exciting emerging culinary talents against each other in a winner-take-all brawl. The allure of the franchise is it’s a competition. As host Padma Lakshmi always explains, only one chef can win the title of Top Chef. Everyone else goes home a runner-up. Nevertheless, my favorite part of Top Chef Season 18 is the profound spirit of kindness permeating through every challenge, scene, and episode. I love each and every contestant* on Top Chef: Portland and I don’t care who knows it!
*Even Gabriel. (I’ll explain…)
When Top Chef originally premiered on Bravo in 2006, it was at the height of the one of TV’s first reality show booms. The early casts of Top Chef were full of preening peacocks, telegenic hotties, and extremely arrogant chefs. And boy, did those chefs clash. Top Chef Season 2’s tensions even boiled over into a truly horrific instance of bullying that resulted in one chef being kicked off the show. As the show went on, kitchens became more diverse and the personalities more lovable. The franchise’s ability to trace the evolution of cheftestants from ambitious young guns to grounded and successful older chefs allowed the audience to see the humanity of Top Chef‘s contestants like never before. Whether by accident or design, Top Chef‘s contestants are no longer antagonistic with each other. Instead, they embrace each other as adopted family.
While recent seasons have been full of kind-hearted chefs and real friendships, Top Chef Season 18 feels sweet on a whole new level. Maybe it’s because the show was shot in the midst of the 2020 pandemic and folks were just happy to be out of the house. Or maybe the stress felt by restauranteurs and chefs during the pandemic inspired new levels of empathy. Or perhaps the pandemic had nothing to do with it and Top Chef’s producers just stumbled upon the nicest cast of chefs to date!
Whatever accounts for this new vibe in the Top Chef kitchen, I am here for it. Much like The Great British Baking Show, this season of Top Chef delivers tense competition and a sweet cast that hits me in the feels. I love Sara and her blushing self-deprecation (and stellar cooks). Avishar steals my heart any time he gets all nerdy (which is often). Shota is quietly cool, Chris a hella hot dreamboat, and Jamie a blustering sweetheart. (Those noises she makes!) I love everyone on Top Chef: Portland and am actually sad when a chef finds themselves packing up their knives and going. I was even bummed about Gabriel’s elimination! Even if he’s been obviously painted as the annoying one of the season, his intensity seemed to come more from a deep-rooted desire to do his former boss, Tom Colicchio, proud.
I will watch the bejesus out of any and all seasons of Top Chef, but Top Chef: Portland feels extra special. The cast is full of incredibly likable people you want to root for in the kitchen. This changes makes the show not just more fun to watch, but every elimination more devastating. I just want all the chefs on this season of Bravo’s Top Chef to stick around forever.
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