How The Pandemic Affected The Way Top Chef Was Filmed

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to rear its head at the struggling restaurant business, the show Top Chef is ready to make a comeback — and it's also ready to bring some top tier chefs along with it.

Despite the limitations that COVID-19 guidance has put into place, the hit cooking show is making its return after months of tedious filming with an all-star lineup for the upcoming season. Top Chef: Portland will premiere on Bravo on April 1, but due to COVID-19, it'll look a whole lot different than the 17 seasons before it (via AV Club).

In a recent interview with Variety, host and longtime chef Padma Lakshmi detailed the safety precautions on the set of season 18. At the top of the list, right next to the mandatory face masks? Coronavirus testing every other day throughout all of filming, which started back in September. That included monitoring for the cast, the crew, and their families.

Challenges on Top Chef have adapted to fit pandemic protocols

It's no easy feat to take on a cooking show in the midst of a pandemic. After all, how can people share a plate or taste a menu with a face mask on? The answer lies in Top Chef's creativity, which likely came at a pretty penny this season.

Instead of the show's traditional trip to Whole Foods, Top Chef has retained the partnership in a new way in line with one of the greatest trends throughout quarantine: Curbside pickup. Contestants will gather what they need for challenges without interacting with one another, or without stepping foot into a store (via Bravo TV).

Lakshmi explained to Variety that judging dishes has required an innovative approach, starting with the elimination of floating between contestants working hard at Quickfire challenges. Instead of sharing a plate, Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons each get their own serving. Spoons also must be discarded after each use — no fancy cutlery this season! Gone are the days of sharing spice containers, too. Each contestant will have their own personal supply and not have to sacrifice any time tracking down a spice, which may be the only silver lining in all of this.

Contestants and the crew have been living in a Top Chef bubble to protect against COVID-19

In her interview with Variety, Lakshmi touches upon one more slight benefit to filming in a pandemic. Since so many chefs have been forced to shut down their restaurants or lose work due to COVID-19, the contestant pool is filled with top-level talent that may have otherwise been too busy to take time away to film.

Those who did sign on to join the season 18 cast were in for a unique housing situation, not unlike the current world of professional sports. While the show's judges lived in Airbnbs, the contestants lived in a hotel to create a "bubble" environment, reports Variety. The only other guests? Top Chef alumni like Richard Blais and Brooke Williamson, who acted as live-in second opinions on some of the season's toughest challenges.

According to AV Club, the Top Chef production team made use of video conferencing platform Zoom for culinary experts who weren't willing or able to leave the comfort of their locked-down homes (or abandon their restaurants at such a hard time). Zoom may not be the ideal solution for a cooking show — where, y'know, you have to taste things to judge them — but in a global pandemic, Top Chef is taking what it can get.