Texan chef Gabe Erales won the title of “Top Chef” on Thursday night – and that already leaves an unpleasant aftertaste in the mouths of some fans of the reality TV cooking contest.
While some touted his victory on social media, others found it problematic that the former executive chef of Austin’s Comedor – who was fired in December for “repeated violations” of restaurant policies – claimed the grand prize of $ 250,000.
The Portland, Oregon, Bravo finale of the show’s 18th season featured the crowned winner, Erales, 40, with fellow Texan chef Dawn Burrell of Houston and Shota Nakajima of Seattle as finalists.
It was announced that Erales was competing on “Top Chef” in February 2021. However, as the season progressed rumors began to circulate that he had been kicked out of the Mexican restaurant for breaking the restaurant policy on harassment and discrimination. Some social media watchdogs were unimpressed after finding out about the unpleasant controversy.
An indignant fan mentionned, “OK but for real #topchef isn’t addressing Gabe being fired from his job and the allegations against him at ALL are truly irresponsible. I just found out today, and people like me have it. watched and (not me) backed him up all season with no idea.
As speculation online began to boil over, “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi took to her position on Twitter.
“As someone who has been sexually harassed, this subject is serious and deserves to be opened up”, Lakshmi, 50, said. “We filmed Top Chef in October of last year and weren’t aware of the allegations about Gabe. It should be investigated and the network should consider their best action.”
“To be clear, no one has alleged sexual harassment on file or otherwise to Bravo / Top Chef and we, the judges, have had no indication of Gabe’s inappropriate behavior during his time on set,” Lakshmi added.
Network representatives for “Top Chef” declined to comment when asked if there would be a response to the fan backlash. However, an insider linked to the show pointed The Post to an Austin-American Statesman report revealing how the production team knew the details of the layoff, both from conversations with restaurant management and Erales.
The local outlet said an anonymous “Top Chef” source claimed that Erales admitted to having “consensual sex” with a kitchen worker – and later cut his hours off according to his performance at work. The source also said the producers performed a background check on Erales and examined his behavior on set, but found no issues.
No specific allegations against Erales have been officially made – and the new “Top Chef” has publicly denied having sex with his staff at the Comedor or any other restaurant.
Operated by partners William Ball and Chef Philip Speer, Comedor has earned accolades such as being named one of Esquire’s Best New Restaurants and Texas Monthly’s Best New Restaurant of 2020 under Erales.
However, Speer told the Statesman that Erales was fired “because of a violation of our policies and behavior that conflicts with our values.” He later stated more specifically that he had repeatedly violated the company’s ethics policy in connection with the harassment of women. Erales, who did not respond to a point-of-sale inquiry in December 2020 about his dismissal, finally confirmed his dismissal last week.
Because the show was pre-taped months ago, Erales was fired from his position as executive chef at Comedor after the show had already named him the winner of the season.
The series never considered a re-shoot, according to the source, because “scrapping the entire season wouldn’t be fair to the other 14 candidate chiefs and a production team that endured the challenges of the pandemic to produce the show”.
Erales was absent from the post-final episode of “Watch What Happens Live With Andy Cohen” Thursday night – a tradition in which the “Top Chef” sits with the judges to discuss their journey throughout. the season with Andy Cohen.
Portland’s season finale took place in the Willamette Valley, where chefs were tasked with preparing a four-course meal. The finalists were matched with Chiefs who returned after being knocked out earlier in the season.
For the first course, Erales made fried cochinita pibil head cheese with habanero ash emulsion avocado mousse and kumquat sauce. He concocted scallop aguachile with fermented pineapple and roasted pineapple oil for the second course. His third dish consisted of a short rib with a chichilo negro mole, mushrooms and pickled persimmons, while his final dish was a delicata squash confit with Mexicano coffee ice cream.
Erales, originally from El Paso, is the first Mexican-American chef to win the “Top Chef” award. He previously opened the now closed Dai Due Taqueria under the leadership of Jesse Griffiths. He also previously worked at Noma in Copenhagen and Mexico City. Prior to becoming Executive Chef at Comedor, he worked at other Austin restaurants such as Fonda San Miguel, La Condesa, and Geraldine’s.
He announced during the season that he was opening a new Mexican restaurant called Bacalar in the fall of 2022 in collaboration with the company Austin Urban Real Estate and Interiors. The menu will feature regional dishes inspired by the Mexican state of Yucatan.
“Going forward, my position in a restaurant as an authority figure is important and I know that to improve our industry, creating a positive, non-toxic work environment begins with a plan of checks and balances. that needs to be set up. before the doors open, ”Erales told the Statesman.