"Top Chef" Heads to Portland, With LGBTQ Representation in Tow

by Matthew Wexler

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday October 1, 2020

Bravo's Emmy-winning TV series "Top Chef" turns 18 this season and has finally arrived in one of the northwest's greatest food towns: Portland, Oregon.

"We're happy to be here," said head judge Tom Colicchio in a recent interview with The Oregonian, calling Portland "a great food city and the products here are great, there's great wine in the valley, amazing fish on the coast, and great cheese produced here. If you're a fan of farm-to-table cooking, it's all here."

Filming during a pandemic hasn't been easy, but producers, cast and crew are in a production bubble at a Portland hotel while venturing out for site-specific competitions at the Hood River Fruit Loop, the Columbia River Gorge, the area known as the Mt. Hood Territory, Tillamook Bay, the Tualatin Valley and Willamette Valley wine country.

Co-hosts and judges Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons return, but due to pandemic-related restrictions, large gatherings have been off-limits. Instead, this season will feature a rotating judging and dining panel that includes "Top Chef" alumni and strong representation from the LGBTQ culinary scene.

Queer panelists include:

Gregory Gourdet — A runner-up in Season 12 and return contestant for "Top Chef All-Stars LA," Gourdet is no stranger to competition. "I love competing, I love the adrenaline, I love the stress, I love pushing yourself to the limit," Gourdet told The Oregonian. "I definitely enjoy being a judge, but I'm a little bit jealous of the cheftestants because they get to compete."

When asked if he's felt challenged as a gay man in the kitchen, the Portland-based chef told Passport Magazine, "I don't. I'm pretty sure there's still the old school' super bro' kitchen, but I don't live somewhere where that exists. There will always be prejudice and inequalities but we've taken a lot of strides for gays. I've never felt uncomfortable in the kitchen."

Melissa King — The most recent "Top Chef: All-Stars" winner is riding high on her victory, and will likely have a strong point of view for contestants regarding authenticity.

In a recent interview with EDGE, King said, "It's been six years since I was on "Top Chef: Boston," and I feel like a completely different person. After the first time, I received messages from kids that were saying, 'I'm Asian American, I'm gay, I'm scared to come out, but I just did it because I saw you.' I was receiving so many of these messages and felt like there was something bigger. Yes, I'm a chef. But I'm a chef with a platform, and I should use that voice that I'm given for my community."

Kristen Kish — Born in South Korea, Kish was adopted by a Michigan family and went on to study at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago. She won season 12 of "Top Chef" and came out several years later via social media.

"That was interesting," Kish said in an interview with Windy City Times. "I was dating a woman. She lived in New York and I lived in Boston. We met in Charleston for our one-year anniversary. I posted a picture to share the moment. It was not my goal to come out. The floodgates opened. A day after that, a New York Times article came out that had done a profile on me and my former boss. It casually mentioned my girlfriend. It was crazy! I didn't think that people cared. I had already come out to my close friends and family, so that part was fine. I received nothing but amazing messages. That is when life takes off, when you can openly be who you are."

Matthew Wexler is EDGE's Senior Editor, Features & Branded Content. More of his writing can be found at www.wexlerwrites.com. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @wexlerwrites.