Top Chef Contestant Nelson German Reveals The Biggest Lesson From Being On The Show - Exclusive

Contestants and crew faced some unique behind-the-scenes challenges filming "Top Chef" during the pandemic, including wearing face masks and COVID testing every other day (per USA Today). During an exclusive interview with Mashed, chef Nelson German shared how the intense demands of competing on "Top Chef" Season 18 forced him to reevaluate the daily pressures of being a restaurant owner. German explained that the closure of his two restaurants offered him an opportunity to focus on the competition and "really decompress and be away" in a way he might not have been able to otherwise. Enjoying a break from the grind on the set of a cooking competition? Not so fast.

While on the set of "Top Chef," German also faced the pressure of a knee injury. When asked about the experience, German said "taking more care of myself" is one lesson he walked away with following his departure. German struggled through pain after tweaking his knee in a competition held on an orchard. Undeterred, the kitchen veteran continued competing, aided by painkillers and adrenaline, through a last-chance kitchen challenge. 

"You just [keep] going, going and going, right? The time is running," he explained. After his elimination from the show, he spent a month of recovery in a wheelchair. The experience opened Nelson German's eyes to the toll of this all-or-nothing career.

'Top Chef' forced Nelson German to prioritize his health

Nelson German explained the long hours of standing without rest trains chefs to ignore physical discomfort. "It's part of the lifestyle for chefs. A lot of us work hurt, honestly," German said. "For me in this industry, as long as I've been in it — I've been in it over 22 years — it was always about being there all the time, being everywhere, pushing myself more and more every day." The chef admitted the pressure to work through both physical pain and stress "builds up on you." When star chefs dish on their worst injuries in the kitchen, it can normalize getting hurt as a rite of passage.

Losing his ability to walk put things in perspective for Nelson German. "Now it's the feeling of, still you have to push, but have your team be [your] support," he said. "I don't need to be stuck in the kitchen all the time. There's a lot of other things I can do that can build the business, can build my team, can have exposure for my food and my craft." With renewed focus, German can now place greater trust in his team to continue his vision while he builds on long-term goals. The chef said prioritizing his health is "making sure that I can still do what I love to do." And what does that look like for a restaurant owner running a Michelin-recommended restaurant, cocktail lounge, and hosting virtual classes? "Just taking care of myself: having enough rest, having enough sleep, exercising whenever I can," German said. Good advice for all of us.

Keep up with Chef Nelson's travels, culinary collaborations, and restaurants by following him on Instagram.