'Top Chef' shines light on Oregon, Portland
It's always cool to see Portland on television, and upcoming episodes of "Top Chef" will present plenty of flavor of our city.
The 18th season was filmed in Portland last fall — location of kitchen space undisclosed — and host Padma Lakshmi, prominent judge Tom Colicchio and others gladly return to feature the food of the Rose City and Oregon, even as the world heals from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's good to be back," said Colicchio in a "Top Chef" promotional video. "After major issues (like a pandemic), typically you see food becoming more homey and comforting. I expect that's what we're going to get."
Added Lakshmi: "I know the level of food is going to be very high."
Fifteen chefs will compete on "Top Chef," which airs starting 8 p.m. Thursday, April 1, on the Bravo network. Two of them are local: Gabriel Pascuzzi, who owns Stacked Sandwich Shop and Mama Bird, and Sara Hauman, the chef at Soter Vineyards in Carlton. They'll also compete in various challenges, incorporating Portland and Oregon food and ingredients.
"Being from Portland, I have to represent well," said Pascuzzi, who's a Wilson High (now Ida B. Wells-Barnett High) graduate, in show promotions. "Once that jacket goes on, it's game on."
The rotating judge panel includes famed Portland chef Gregory Gourdet, formerly of Departure and a previous "Top Chef" contestant.
The show also will include appearances by chefs Jose Andres, Gabriel Rucker (from Portland) and Alice Waters, restaurateur Massimo Bottura, as well as former "Portlandia" stars Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein in a Quickfire Challenge.
Chefs compete in a variety of challenges that include celebrating Portland's Pan-African cuisine to feeding hundreds of frontline workers to crabbing on the Oregon Coast in tribute to culinary icon James Beard.
They work with foraged mushrooms and produce at the Hood River Fruit Loop and they visit Tillamook Creamery. They must cook at their best while contending with a Quickfire Challenge using ingredients used on the Oregon Trail and a surf-and-turf elimination challenge honoring the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation.
Hauman said "Top Chef" will show off the state's food diversity.
"We're not as one-note as people think we are," she said. "Just go around to any food cart pod and you'll see different cultures and cuisines; you can get any type of cuisine you can imagine in Portland, which is what a lot of cities don't have. It's pretty great.
"There's a big, diverse population here and I'm excited 'Top Chef' really embraced that, spoke to that and showcased it."
Said Pascuzzi: "'Top Chef' did a great job, but they didn't get to experience Portland like you and I know it, because (filming) was during the pandemic."
The winning chef earns the title of "Top Chef" and $250,000 furnished by S.Pellegrino Sparkling Natural Mineral Water, as well as a feature in Food & Wine magazine and an appearance at the annual Food & Wine Festival.
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