Previewing Top Chef Portland-Meet the Cheftestants

TOP CHEF -- " It?s Like They Never Left!" Episode 1701 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons -- (Photo by: Nicole Weingart/Bravo)
TOP CHEF -- " It?s Like They Never Left!" Episode 1701 -- Pictured: (l-r) Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons -- (Photo by: Nicole Weingart/Bravo) /

When Bravo recently announced that Top Chef Portland would be premiering on Thursday, April 1, it was analogous to Punxsutawney Phil making his annual cameo and forecasting another six weeks of winter. While we’re bummed by the delay, we’re elated at the thought of reaching our destination. And like warmer weather, Season 18 of Top Chef can’t come soon enough.

Like almost everything else during the pandemic, Top Chef Portland had to adjust on the fly. Still, I’m comfortable saying with metaphysical certitude that the final product will live up to its lofty and well-earned reputation as the gold standard of food competition shows.

One anticipated component of Top Chef Portland is the inclusion of a who’s who of Top Chef alumni as a rotating group of judges and diners, meaning viewers will not only be getting to know 15 new cheftestants, but will be joined for the culinary ride by the likes of Portland’s own Gregory Gourdet, Kristen Kish, Brooke Williamson, Richard Blais, and Melissa King, among many others.

King, the winner of last season’s All Stars, shared with me exactly how the show’s producers pulled off the Herculean task of not only filming Season 18 during a pandemic  but doing so with the involvement of this exciting group of former competitors.

“We had to create this really safe environment for us to be able to film, and that required getting COVID tested every other day. They made sure we had separate pods, sort of like bubbles within bubbles of people, so certain people I did not encounter at all on set because it was so protected.”

While seeing old favorites will be fun, the focus of Season 18 will ultimately be on the 15 talented chefs who will be facing Padma Lakshmi, Gail Simmons, and Tom Colicchio at Judges’ Table, with those who end up on the short end of an Elimination Challenge having a chance at redemption when visiting Tom in the returning Last Chance Kitchen.

From New England to the desert southwest, the Pacific Northwest to the deep south, Season 18’s roster of competing chefs compelled Tom Colicchio to say on the show’s trailer that they “could be one of the best collections of chefs we’ve had on the show in 18 seasons.”

So, who are these 15 talented cheftestants on Top Chef Season 18?


What they’re saying: “Anderson’s steak tartare reveals the care lavished on every plate…Just as echt is the chef’s schnitzel…My fork darts between the crisp meat and the accompanying fingerling potatoes, fried in duck fat and just as irresistible.”- Tom Sietsema, Washington Post

AVISHAR BARUA-Columbus, Ohio

What they’re saying: “Barua’s work is a sampling of what American food truly is today, a pastiche of influences-from fast food to immigrant kitchens-filtered through Barua’s modern culinary techniques.”- Bailey Trask, Columbus Monthly

DAWN BURRELL-Houston, Texas

What they’re saying: “I have a predilection for deviled eggs, and Burrell’s are one of my favorite iterations of this classic dish…Another hit is the wafer-thin bread and nutty, creamy black-eyed pea hummus…And I couldn’t stop sopping up the rich collard dip with the chef’s airy calas, or rice fritters.”- Timothy Malcolm, Houstonia

GABE ERALES-Austin, Texas

What they’re saying: “The double-cut pork chop again recalled some medieval savagery with its weapon-ready size, and it hit me directly in the pleasure center of my brain. So much so that I ordered it at consecutive dinners (a rare move).”- Matthew Odam, Austin American-Statesman

NELSON GERMAN-Oakland, California

What they’re saying: “Executive Chef Nelson German’s Michelin-recommended cuisine is just as I remember it: creative, high-quality and full of fiery flavors made with locally-sourced, sustainable ingredients…Four stars should go to alaMar for what it is: a stellar example of high-quality, chef-driven cuisine.”- Jessica Yadegaran, The Mercury News

BYRON GOMEZ-Aspen, Colorado

The skinny: The self-taught chef earned his stripes at Michelin-starred restaurants, including Eleven Madison Park, before heading west to take over the kitchen at 7908 Aspen.

SASHA GRUMMAN-Houston, Texas

The skinny: Chef Grumman worked for Top Chef Masters winner Chris Cosentino at his Cockscomb in San Francisco before becoming Executive Chef at his Rosalie Italian Soul in Houston, where her Sicilian roots aligned with Cosentino’s vision to recreate his childhood memories of Italian-American food.

ROSCOE HALL-Birmingham, Alabama

The skinny: The multi-talented chef is also an acclaimed artist whose culinary training includes stints working under the legendary Alice Waters at Chez Panisse and David Chang in New York. Chef Hall ultimately settled in Alabama, where his versatility shined bright as Executive Chef at the award-winning Rodney Scott’s BBQ.

SARA HAUMAN-Portland, Oregon

What they’re saying: “…the food produced by Sara Hauman has a relaxed maturity. The appetizer that’s already become a signature after only two months-for good reason-is avocado toast where the bread is slathered with uni aioli, slices of soft, ripe fruit and paved with seaweed and sesame seeds.”- Michael Bauer, San Francisco Chronicle

KIKI LOUYA-Detroit, Michigan

What they’re saying: “Folk approaches breakfast with a global perspective…At Folk, it’s never a bad idea to start your day with a turmeric milk and ginger latte with a helping of Tigress Aussie meat pie…One of the best things I ate all year was a sardine toast Folk served last spring.”- Mark Kurlyandchik, Detroit Free Press

MARIA MAZON-Tucson, Arizona

What they’re saying: “There is nobody in this town who has done more to promote the new Sonoran cuisine than her…She reinvents the wheel every day at her Fourth Avenue restaurant…Her tacos practically explode with color, so much that they become an exercise in keeping food off your shirt…I mean, who else would make salsa out of Girl Scout cookies?”- Andi Berlin, This is Tucson

SHOTA NAKAJIMA-Seattle, Washington

What they’re saying: “Meat, seafood and vegetables turn up in soulful braises and fragrant broths, sometimes paired with vivid sauces or with little more than a wedge of lime…Katsouobushi (shaved dried bonito flakes) waggled in the heat rising from caramelized Brussels sprouts and pork belly…Clams steamed in butter and sake amounted to a spring fling with fiddleheads, ramps, and fava beans joining the frolic.”- Providence Cicero, Seattle Times


What they’re saying: “The headliner is a reimagined French dip, that swaps out roast beef for heaps of pulled oxtail and uses the rich, rosemary-steeped braising liquid for dipping…Topped with Havarti, onions, and cremini mushrooms, it tastes like a two-handed French onion soup of the gods.”- Portland Monthly

JAMIE TRAN-Las Vegas, Nevada

What they’re saying: “The smoky heirloom beet salad takes the vegetable to a new level with golden and red baby heirloom beets, citrus and goat cheese yogurt, spiced walnuts, black radish, must-eat beet dust, and watercress. The dish brings together smoke with sweet with savory.”- Susan Stapleton, Eater Las Vegas

CHRIS VIAUD-Milford, New Hampshire

The skinny: As he details in The Farmers Dinner Cookbook that he co-authored, Chef Viaud is passionate about the New England farmers and artisans with whom he works to create the seasonal dishes at his Greenleaf restaurant and Culture scratch bakery.

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As you can tell, Top Chef Portland’s competitors represent a wide array of approaches, styles, and cuisines. And to hear early intel from Tom Colicchio, they also bring it in the talent department, which will make what has seemed like an interminable wait since the Top Chef All Stars finale a little more bearable. Springtime and a new season of Top Chef, what could be better?!