Los Angeles Times
‘Top Chef ’ takes heat to London
[‘Top Chef.’ from E1] fire challenge and then an elimination challenge in each episode, remains the same. However, the 16 chefs in the kitchen come from a much broader pool. The producers pulled together allstar contestants from 11 global editions of “Top Chef,” including four from prior U.S. seasons.
“This is the 20th season and there are [dozens] of productions of ‘Top Chef’ around the globe, so we thought it would be great to bring in the talent from some of the other ‘Top Chef ’ shows,” Colicchio says, speaking in the green room after the Wellington challenge. “Once we decided to do that, we thought it would be best to get out of the States, and London is a great international city.”
Several international destinations were considered, including cities in Italy, Spain and France, but London was ultimately determined to be the best option.
“In the whole world, New York and London are probably the best food cities in the world to eat in, so there’s an abundance of different produce, different meats, different ingredients,” says Lakshmi, who has been the show’s host since Season 2. “London also has a very high population of immigrant cultures and different ethnicities. That is a great playground for the chefs to shop and cook in.”
Once the idea for an international edition of the series was in motion, the producers had to figure out how to cast “Top Chef: World AllStars.” Currently, there are 29 global editions of “Top Chef,” and each uses a different format. The show differs from region to region, and some are more competitive than others.
“We were looking for diversity in terms of what shows they were coming from, what countries they are coming from, the cuisine they’re cooking, personality and, of course, skill,” says Doneen Arquines, the executive producer and showrunner. “We were lucky enough to find really great contestants from 11 different countries representing a lot of different territories, who also spoke very good English. At the end of the day, it’s still an American audience.”
The contestants include chefs from Jordan, France, Canada, Thailand, Poland, Spain, Brazil, Republic of the Congo, Lebanon and more. Longtime fans of the U.S. edition of “Top Chef” will recognize Dawn Burrell, Sara Bradley, Buddha Lo and Amar Santana, who join the global contestants. Some of the guest chefs and judges include Asma Khan, Jeremy Chan and Clare Smyth, and several were brought in from the global editions.
For the judges, the global diversity of the chefs has helped to keep things interesting. It also resulted in better cooking, according to Lakshmi. She says that the chefs inspire one another, and the diversity “brings a lot of fresh air and new perspectives and opinions to the show.”
“Expanding the position of where America sits in the world is really, really important, especially from a culinary perspective,” Simmons adds. “Because as much as we’ve had an incredibly diverse cast all through the years, diversity in America is one thing and diversity in the world is another. It makes them cook differently and learn different things, and it just sets a different tone.”
Logistically, moving the production to London had its ups and downs. “Top Chef” typically relocates each season in the U.S., often visiting an international destination for the finale. Colicchio says things have been similar, except that it “takes longer to get everywhere in London.” The chefs still cook in the “Top Chef” kitchen, this time built in a studio just outside of London, and they still shop at Whole Foods, but in Kensington.
“In some ways, it always feels the same,” Simmons says. “We just pick up where we left off last year with each other and we have a shorthand and we all know each other so well. But this year, I think, feels bigger. We’re upping our own game. The 20th season is certainly not something I thought I would be doing when we started out 17 years ago.”
The crew arrived in London in July 2022 and began shooting in August, taking over locations like Kew Gardens, Alexandra Palace, Highclere Castle and Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, as well as the historic pubs the Lamb & Flag and the Jack Horner. London’s favorite Indian restaurant, Dishoom, also makes an appearance. “Restaurant Wars” took place in an actual restaurant for the first time, at the Michelin three-star Core by Clare Smyth.
“Everyone who’s competing started out either as a winner or runner-up [and] most of these people have their own restaurants,” Lakshmi says. “It was more interesting to have them focus on their food. Plus, we wanted to shoot with Clare in her restaurant. It has a beautiful kitchen.”
The episodes highlight British cuisine, although perhaps in an unexpected way. There’s an entire challenge focused on rice, another where the chefs re-create pub fare and one centered on Indian dishes. And, of course, there was the Wellington challenge, where teams of chefs cooked a fish Wellington, a meat Wellington and a dessert Wellington.
“Whether it’s Kentucky or London or Charleston, we always try and incorporate as much of the regional cuisine of the place we’re shooting in,” Lakshmi says. “It really guides our hand when we’re thinking about challenges. And people don’t realize how regional food is. We use it as an inspiration. One of the keys to ‘Top Chef’ is that we respect the city we’re going to and we’re genuinely curious about the food and the chefs and people there.”
The two-episode finale, featuring guest judge Hélène Darroze, was shot in Paris. The judges hope to continue the show’s international streak in future seasons.
“It’s going to be hard to go back,” Simmons says. “I don’t know what we’ll be allowed to do, but I’m ready to just get in the rocket ship and move to the next international location. I’m sure that if we go back to the States, we’ll take what we’ve learned and keep going — that’s the great thing about our show. We’ve never rested on our laurels.”
Changing the location each season has been a key aspect of the show’s longevity and momentum, Simmons says.
“We’ve really made sure that every season feels so distinct [and] that you want to come back,” she says. “There’s no repetition. Much of how we structure the show depends on our location every season, and we’ve traveled the world.”
By showcasing international chefs, Lakshmi believes “Top Chef: World AllStars” is an opportunity to broaden the outlook of its U.S. viewers.
“It’s good for Americans to experience another country and its traditions,” she says. “It expands your knowledge and your power. And that is especially true for cooking at this level.”