The drama of Bravo’s “Top Chef” kitchen-competition show didn’t end with the crowning of Gabe Erales on Thursday night as the season’s champion.
Just hours after the finale aired, host Padma Lakshmi suggested on Twitter that the network should dig into allegations that had circulated on social media and in Reddit forums about the “Top Chef” champion.
As someone who has been sexually harassed, this topic is a serious one and merits openness.— Padma Lakshmi (@PadmaLakshmi) July 2, 2021
We filmed Top Chef in October of last year & were not aware of the allegations now coming out about Gabe.
This should be investigated & the network should consider its best action.
Later, Lakshmi posted a second tweet qualifying her initial comments. “To be clear, no one has alleged sexual harassment on the record or otherwise to Bravo/Top Chef and we judges didn’t have any indication of inappropriate behavior from Gabe during his time on set,” she wrote.
Bravo had no comment on the matter, a spokeswoman said. But a person familiar with the production who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly said members of the production team were aware of Erales’s firing, which occurred in December, after the show had wrapped in October.
At the time Erales was ousted as the executive chef of the acclaimed restaurant, co-owner and chef Philip Speer said Erales was let go after "repeated violations of our policies and for behavior in conflict with our values,” according to Eater Austin. Speer declined to provide reporters with more details about what policies the chef violated or what the problematic behavior was.
The person familiar with the production said they subsequently spoke to Erales about the incident. He told them he had been fired after management learned he had a consensual relationship with an employee and later cut her hours. The “Top Chef” team also spoke to the Comedor management, the person said, but the restaurant was unable to provide any further details about Erales’s termination.
“We looked into it,” said the person familiar with the production. “No one has come to Bravo with any complaints. We can only react to the information we are given.”
The network went ahead and aired the full season, which was filmed in the midst of the pandemic, as planned, the person said, out of fairness to the other competitors.
Erales’s publicist declined to comment, and referred The Post to statements the chef made to the American-Statesman. Erales provided more details to the newspaper about what led to his firing, telling the Statesman that he had a sexual relationship with a woman on his kitchen staff during the summer of 2020. After he returned from filming “Top Chef” in November, he said, he cut her hours based on her performance. He also admitted to communicating with her in an “unprofessional manner.”
According to the Statesman, though, Speer “did not deem the woman’s work as sufficient reason for hours being cut.”
The Post was unable to reach Speer, but he provided the Statesman a description of Erales’s behavior that seems at odds with the “Top Chef” winner’s account. “Speer clarified to the Statesman that Erales was fired for repeated violations of the company’s ethics policy as it relates to harassment of women,” according to the Statesman.
Other “Top Chef” contestants have seen the high-profile status that the show can confer crumble. Paul Qui, a 2012 winner, was charged with assault in 2016 after allegedly beating up his girlfriend. The charges were dropped when the victim would not participate in the case, and the chef went on to open and then close several restaurants that prompted handwringing about celebrating the culinary talents of an accused domestic abuser.
And the once buzzy and sprawling restaurant empire owned by season 6 contestant Mike Isabella famously imploded after he settled a lawsuit in 2018 by a former manager alleging “extraordinary harassment."
More from Voraciously: