On Thursday, June 30, just before most Americans plan to leave for the Independence Day vacation, the Bravo Cooking Contest Best Chef: Portland crowned Austin chef Gabe Erales the winner of his 18th season. The next morning, allegations that Erales harassed a woman at his former restaurant Comedor made headlines.

According to Eater Austin, Erales’ departure from Comedor came after the chef admitted to engaging in a “consensual sexual relationship” with a member of the restaurant’s staff in the summer of 2020. After finishing filming of Excellent chef and returned the restaurant a few months later, he reduced the woman’s working hours and “continued to communicate[e] with it in an unprofessional way. Erales told the Austin American-Stateman that he made “bad decisions” that “discriminated” against the employee.

And of course, because Erales won, that means Houston’s Dawn Burrell didn’t win the trophy. As Eater reported ahead of the season finale, it was clear that Excellent chefThe judges quickly took a liking to Erales’ take on Mexican cuisine. But what was also clear, after more than a dozen main challenges, was that Dawn Burrell also deserved to be named the next Top Chef. The same could be said for the excellent Seattle boss Shota Nakajima, but obviously we’re shooting for the home team here.

Throughout the season, Burrell has shown herself to be an incredibly talented chef and strong contender for victory, approaching each challenge with a fierce competitive spirit. She shed light on the cuisines of the African Diaspora and her hometown, while performing them (for the most part) perfectly. Sometimes that diversity of influence turned out to be his downfall – there were several episodes over the past season where Burrell failed to get one or more items off his plate. She was sometimes too ambitious in the constraints of the competition.

But perhaps more importantly, she is currently not charged with entering into an inappropriate relationship with a member of restaurant staff. The restaurant industry has a long history of supporting chefs, especially male chefs, who have been accused of abusive behavior inside and outside their establishments. Stripping Erales of his title now would send a clear message that this kind of behavior will not be rewarded with a check for $ 250,000 and a big fancy margin in Food and wine magazine.

In one declaration posted on his Twitter account, Excellent chef Host Padma Lakshmi said unequivocally that the show’s producers were not aware of the allegations against Erales. “As someone who has been sexually harassed, this topic is serious and deserves to be opened up,” Lakshmi wrote. “We filmed Top Chef in October last year and weren’t aware of the allegations about Gabe. It should be investigated and the network should consider their best action.”

But according to the Austin American-Stateman, the show’s producers knew Erales was fired from his restaurant Comedor in Austin after violating the restaurant’s harassment policy. An anonymous source told the newspaper that Bravo, the network that broadcasts Excellent chef, “never” considered re-filming the season because it wouldn’t be fair to the other contestants in the series.

In some ways, this rationale makes sense. But what’s really not fair is that the work Burrell and Nakajima and all the other bosses have been doing over the past season – in the midst of a pandemic, mind you – is overshadowed by the bad behavior of ‘a man who ended up taking home the prize.

Unsurprisingly, Burrell was infinitely kind after the finale aired, thanking the show’s judges and fellow competitors, especially Las Vegas chef Jamie Tran, who joined Burrell in Houston for his recent dinner. of celebration of June 10. She admitted her mistakes, celebrated her victories and generally proved why she is the real winner this season.

“What I know about myself is that I NEVER give up. Never. I will go through any situation, always giving my maximum no matter what the outcome, ”Burrell wrote. “With that same determination, I will continue to push the boundaries. My quest for excellence is endless. What I learned: I have to keep editing myself. It is quite true that sometimes less is more. Cooking with confidence is key.

We don’t know if Bravo, or Excellent chef the production company Magical Elves will conduct all kinds of investigations into Erales’ behavior. This story is likely to end in a few weeks, just in time for the next boss to be accused of harassment or misconduct. Now more than four years after the #MeToo movement began, following the collapse of empires ruled by restaurant industry figures accused of abuse like Mario Batali, John Besh and Ken Friedman, there is something Deeply disturbing in the fact that a person who has been credibly accused of harassment can still win one of the most prominent cooking contests.

Until the culinary industry is prepared to demand significant consequences on bad actors, these models will continue. The concerns of the victims of harassment, who manifest themselves at great personal and professional risk, will always be dismissed as less important than the culinary “geniuses” who mistreated them.

And of course, crowning Dawn Burrell as this season’s true Top Chef won’t solve the ubiquitous harassment problem in the hospitality industry. What he can do, however, is recognize the accomplishments of an endlessly talented chef who has proven his talents to be just as worthy of this honor. The show would also do well to take Lakshmi’s advice and open an investigation into exactly how this happened in the first place.

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