Reasons why Top Chef is totally fake

Foodie culture got a pretty big boon when Bravo first introduced its long-lived culinary competition series Top Chef in 2006. Over the course of its dozen-plus seasons, producers have tinkered with the recipe here and there, but the key ingredients on the show's plate have always been the same: a lineup of high-class cooks roll up their sleeves, sharpen their knives, and go to work impressing the panel of regular judges and special guest diners (and, erm, Padma Lakshmi).

And while many components of this television dish are authentic, there are several reasons to believe the show might be somewhat staged. Here's why Top Chef won't be certified organic any time soon.

The judges on Top Chef probably aren't besties IRL

Top Chef wouldn't be what it is if not for the respectful on-screen dynamics of Lakshmi and chef Tom Colicchio, but rumor has it, the two don't quite get along once the cameras stop rolling. The hostess, who became the frontwoman in the show's second season, is known to have exhibited more than her fair share of diva behavior on the sets. Consider when she was said to have openly shown disfavor to Season 6 contestant Ash Fulk or when diner extras at the San Antonio-based healthy eating competition in Season 9 (Top Chef Texas) were explicitly instructed not to talk to or even look at her. Not to mention that time Stefan Richter from Season 5 gave her flowers, and producers snatched them away from her.

One Redditor, called ChoppyChoppy (in lieu of a real name, due to non-disclosure agreements), hosted an AMA about his or her experience as one of the contestants on the show. ChoppyChoppy said that the host spent most of her non-shooting time in the trailer and that between takes it was "pretty clear" she and Colicchio didn't get along from what was seen during production. Colicchio all but confirmed the perception of friction between them when he told Time magazine he had "no comment on" the question of whether his long-time co-star acts differently off the air than what viewers see of her. Yikes.

The food you see on Top Chef isn't exactly what they eat

According to chef Roy Yamaguchi, who competed on Top Chef Masters' first season, not only is the food prepared by the chefs really prepped in the limited window of time allotted during the competition rounds, but it's also (usually) pretty good. And the judges do have to eat it — yes, even the chocolate chicken liver disaster Season 2 winner Ilan Hall made that Lakshmi loathed so well.

But there is a key difference between the plates audiences are shown and what the judges nom on while the cameras roll on the results. The chefs also have to prepare two plates of whatever they make so the judges can eat before the dishes get cold and so the crew can have as much time as they need to film. That's not to say they aren't very similar, of course — they're still the same courses — but photographers admittedly work to make sure the plates we see at home are "as sexy as possible," while the judges are more concerned with the gustatory impact of any given concoction.

Top Chef producers might push forward bigger personalities

On the show, the panel judges are the ultimate deciders as to who stays and who Lakshmi tells to "pack [their] knives and go." Colicchio has long maintained that food alone is the defining factor that drives their choices, as they're kept quarantined from all the chef contestants' post-kitchen drama. But according to Entertainment Weekly, a cameraman named "T-Bone," who snaps glamour shots of the food while tasting is happening, is often turned to for a backup opinion on which plate was the winner of the day (or 2½ days, as the shooting schedule would have it) when the judges are stumped and production is pushing into the night.

Moreover, ChoppyChoppy revealed on Reddit that from a contestant's perspective, it did seem that "there was a particular interest in [competitors] who were hot headed and who were driving the overall storyline," adding that he or she was nixed "relatively early" after being "up against a big personality" and that "they have a bias to keeping more women on the show than need be."

Top Chef is not totally unscripted

According to Nola.com, which visited the behind-the-scenes action on Season 11's New Orleans run, some of the close-ups of the judges' remarks, which are presented as spontaneous on screen, are "frequently retakes, captured after the contestants are dismissed from the scene." Redditor ChoppyChoppy agreed, writing that "if there was an awkward pause or Gail [Simmons, a frequent guest judge] screwed up her lines (which happened a lot) we would have to reshoot a scene."

More importantly, in the interest of the show's frequent sponsorship and product placement efforts, Lakshmi is said to have worn an earpiece during challenge description takes "through which all of the legally approved info is being fed to her" — hence her "robotic" delivery of those instructions. The contestant who hosted a Reddit AMA also wrote that they were required to stay out of the way of key product placement shots during their challenges, and "even though a piece of equipment wasn't up to snuff we were fully aware that our personal airtime depended on not just our ability/personality but also our willingness to play up the greatness of the product. I felt dirty, man."

There were some notable calendar issues on Top Chef

In the other Top Chef spin-off series Life After Top Chef, Episode 2 contained a funny bit of time-travel noticed by the keen eyes watching the show. In the episode, chef Jen Carroll (who'd appeared in Top Chef Las Vegas and Top Chef All-Stars) revealed that she and her fellow contestants were in Aspen, Colorado, for its famed Food & Wine Festival and that they'd be heading down to Charleston, South Carolina, next for its similar event. The problem was, the Southern event took place months before the Centennial State hosted its grand affair, so once viewers put those two confusing pieces of the show puzzle together, they realized the line was a phony farce that was meant to go right over everyone's heads but was way too off to miss. Whoops.

Sometimes the Top Chef contestants are just too good

Colicchio himself has revealed that at least one Top Chef contestant was so ahead of the game from the outset that the show had to cut a lot of his film to make the season work. He told the Huffington Post that Season 9 winner Paul Qui was so good that producers had to dial down on the show's coverage of his eight elimination challenge wins to make it a watchable contest.

"We had to dumb down how good he was, because it would've been pretty obvious that he was running away with everything," Colicchio said, noting that viewers would have tuned out and hurt the show's ratings otherwise.

"If you can figure out who's going to win 30 minutes into it, you turn off the TV. And so you have to keep the suspense going until the very very end." So, basically, if you ever decide to binge watch Season 9 again, you might notice a slight glaze of non-legitimacy orchestrated to hide the fact that Qui totally coasted to his inevitable victory.