We drank three rounds with some all-star judges from Top Chef: Portland — plus special guests
With the newest, COVID-safe version of Restaurant Wars shaping up to be one of the most stressful iterations yet of the beloved Top Chef challenge, EW thought it'd be nice to offer the judges a chance to unwind and reflect on the current Portland-based season over Three Rounds.
One can't talk about a reality competition series though without twists somehow being involved. Rather than our guests, a sampling of this season's all-star judges panel — including Melissa King, Brooke Williamson, Kwame Onwuachi, and Tiffany Derry — choosing the beverages, we had hosts and mainstay judges Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, and Gail Simmons provide the drinks menu.
For the first round, Colicchio surprised the group by showing up to the virtual chat to recommend the Spaghetti Western Negroni. As everyone sipped on the delicious cocktail, the chefs shared what they've been up to since joining the show.
Needless to say, the chefs have been booked and busy since their seasons aired, doing everything from opening restaurants to writing books and, in Onwuachi's case, adapting one of those books into a movie. "It's cool to see the trajectory," he shares. "I never knew how I would get here, but the journey's the reward, and I'm happy to be here."
There's also been more appearances on culinary unscripted series, with Derry being a recurring presence on Bar Rescue, and both Williamson and King actually returning to the show as the eventual winners of Top Chef: Charleston and Top Chef: All-Stars 2 respectively. Williamson, who also won Food Network's Tournament of Champions admits, "Once you figure out you're good at something, you want to keep doing what you're good at."
For round 2, Gail Simmons appeared to suggest her cocktail The Gail, which involves gin and cucamelons. The conversation turned to what it's like for the group to be on the other side of the judges' table. Derry explains that one thing she kept in mind is how for contestants, "before any judge tells you where you messed up, you already know where you messed up at." King cuts in to say "Usually,' but Derry quickly cracks "But then I question it like 'Did you really not know, or are you gonna sit here and act like you didn't know?"
Williamson emphasizes that the all-star judges, which also include Richard Blais, Carrie Baird, Nina Compton, Gregory Gourdet, Kristen Kish, Edward Lee, Amar Santana, and Dale Talde this season, "gain no joy from seeing people screw up or berating people or embarrassing people." She adds that they "come from a place of support and genuine interest and excitement in seeing these people succeed. So I think that our perspective is a very specific and very unique one."
Round 3 is dedicated to Champagne Padma, the alter ego Lakshmi let out judging a particularly boozy challenge last season. When asked if any of them took advantage of the chance to speak their mind while working with the trio that once judged their food, and sent them home from the competition, Onwuachi exuberantly responded "every single episode I gave my opinion, 100,000 percent. If you didn't like me, I don't care. I was here at the table, and I got something to say."
King addressed the query a little more diplomatically, noting "chefs have personalities, but we certainly, I think, all of us were seen on very equal planes in the eyes of Padma, Tom, and Gail, so there was never this 'We are below them and we have to prove anything.' They very much valued our input and our opinions across the board whether or not we agreed with them."
The group went on to discuss how much they appreciate the show for how it continues to be involved with keeping the restaurant industry afloat as a whole, and how it was nice to have this opportunity to return to the show during such a difficult time. As a viewer of the show now though, Derry confesses "Top Chef still stresses me out!" Watching it, and live tweeting it, she says, "I think to myself 'Don't do that, don't change' — all of these things you can see sometimes, it going down for someone."
Unfortunately, Thursday's Restaurant Wars episode promises to only keep audiences even more on edge with the cheftestants having to execute their restaurant concept in front of a chef's table, where judges like our 3 Rounds guests can see them cooking.
Watch all three rounds in the full video above now.
Top Chef: Portland airs Thursdays on Bravo at 8 p.m. ET/PT