Top Chef Contestant Nelson German Spills On What It Was Like To Compete While Injured - Exclusive

As is the case with each new edition, "Top Chef" Season 18 promised plenty of surprises and a good dose of competition when it was filmed for the first time in Portland, Oregon and aired earlier in 2021. The truly unexpected happened, however, when Oakland-based contestant Nelson German twisted his knee during one of the challenges and chose to keep going after the injury. The chef and restaurant owner spoke exclusively with Mashed about what it was like to continue to compete on "Top Chef" despite being hurt. "It's part of the lifestyle for chefs," he admitted. "A lot of us work hurt, honestly. Because we are standing for so long, for a lot of hours standing on our feet, there's no time to rest. You're always just doing something. It's a lot of work. It's a lot of pressure, and it builds up on you," he added. "This is just something we push away [and] keep going ... but it was painful."

The incident happened during Episode 4 when contestants traveled to Oregon's Fruit Loop in the Hood River Valley for an elimination challenge, reports Portland Monthly. The article further explains the area is a popular destination for its apple, plum, pear, and peach orchards. German revealed that the orchards also featured uneven terrain that ended up posing a risk. Running in kitchen shoes "made it worse," he added. Portland Monthly's recap only describes the incident as "Nelson's feet start to give out," but the chef himself described the experience as "hitting these holes, tweaking my knees." But, with an added adrenaline rush, he said he continued to compete. "There are cameras around you," German noted. "You just [keep] going, going and going." What might have seemed like just a stumble on the episode, however, turned into a month-long ordeal.

'Top Chef' contestant Nelson German spent a month in a wheelchair after injuring himself on set

Even after injuring his knee, "Top Chef" contestant Nelson German continued to participate in challenges on the show. Portland Monthly explains German lasted until Episode 6 during a partnered elimination challenge when he prepared surf and turf for members of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (per FoodSided). Even then, German had trouble walking. "Definitely the most painful was during the last challenge I was in, going down the hill to meet the tribe ... [and] it was raining," he said. The chef also wore galoshes in the episode, which didn't help. 

The physical aspects of filming the scene put further pressure on his injury, said German, "and it got worse and worse" as filming went on, to the point where "the cartilage in my knees was basically breaking off," he added. "But it's one of those things, you're in this moment, you're in this once in a lifetime opportunity [and] you can't stop. Until actually my body told me, 'There's no more.'" His cooking abilities also were affected due to the pain he was in. "As you could see with the last challenge, I overcooked the fish," German said. "Definitely, I was in a lot of pain." An elimination for surf and turf ingredients had to be an added blow due to German's acclaim as restaurant owner of the seafood-focused and Michelin-recommended Oakland restaurant, alaMar.

German noted that, following his departure from "Top Chef," he spent weeks healing from the knee injury. "I was in a wheelchair for almost a month, so [it was] really tough." Despite the determination to succeed, the kitchen veteran learned that his body doesn't have to pay the price. Instead, German is learning to take better care of himself and look for support from his team when and where he can. Now, the priority, he said, is "making sure that I can still do what I love to do."

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