Season 18 of Bravo’s Top Chef aired earlier this month. The series showcases this year’s host city of Portland. Typically, the host city gives viewers a chance to tour its local cuisine, restauranteurs, and regional experiences. But with Top Chef Portland being filmed during the summer of 2020, many of those experiences were lost. With some local Oregon talent and regional visits, we get to see more of Oregon than originally expected.
In pre-pandemic seasons, we’ve virtually experienced the fast-paced cooking challenges in cities like Las Vegas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York.
Chefs from around the country show up to compete for the title of Top Chef—one that comes with a hefty six-figure cash prize, bragging rights, and a feature in Food and Wine Magazine. The award also brings subsequent advantages, like branding opportunities and investment deals. The title opens doors otherwise not visible let alone ajar to such talent.
Pacific Northwest Talent
Three Chefs who reign from the Pacific Northwest have been impressive to watch. Sara Hauman, Head Chef for Willamette Valley’s Soter Vineyards, has so far proven her young skills. She won several quickfire and elimination challenges (which include immunity from being voted off each respective round and cash prizes of $10,000).
Returning Oregonian, Gabriel Pascuzzi, recently made his way back to Portland. For years he worked under Top Chef veteran judge and award-winning Chef, Tom Colicchio, in New York City. In its most recent episode, Pascuzzi indicates that his reason for leaving the Big Apple was to return to his more rustic roots in Oregon.
Seattle-based Chef (and Japan native), Shota Nakajima, comes to Top Chef with a pocketful of impressive accolades. Nakajima strives to make Japanese comfort food an approachable cuisine in the Pacific Northwest. He’s also a three-time James Beard Award semi-finalist and Executive Chef/owner of Taku in Seattle.
In recent episodes, we’ve seen the Chefs take on both elimination and quickfire challenges that showcase Pacific Northwest favorites. Most recently, the Chefs headed to the Hood River Fruit Loop. Here, they were challenged to create a savory dish using self-picked apples and stone fruit from the Colombia River Gorge. In true Oregon fashion, the wind picked up and swept through the outdoor cooking arena—creating an array of challenges for many of the Chefs.
Earlier in the season, we saw an elimination challenge that forced two Chefs to come together and create a “brewed” dish. The pair were each delegated a beer- or coffee-infused dish, respectively. Using local craft beers and Stumptown coffee, the duo had to make these two elements work in harmony.
Cooking with Purpose
Episode three evoked the most emotion thus far in Top Chef, with its focus on Pan African cuisine. The Chefs visited local Pan-African restaurants and sat down with the owners of these eateries to learn about the stories behind this influential cuisine. For many of the competing Chefs, this particular cooking challenge gave them the opportunity to highlight food that’s personal. Winning Chef of this challenge, Dawn Burrell, was grateful for Pan-African cuisine to finally be given the platform it deserves.
Of course, I’m rooting for one of our regional Chefs to win the title of Top Chef Portland. Selfishly, for the chance to meet them at the Food and Wine Classic in Aspen this Fall. Alternatively, to bring some national attention to the restaurants they represent and the talent they exhibit. However, I am not-so-secretly rooting for James Beard semi-finalist Rising Star Chef in 2016 and 2017, Sara Hauman. Perhaps it’s time for Eat Drink Bend to head to Soter Vineyards’ tasting room for a visit.
Join the Top Chef Portland journey every Thursday night at 8 pm on Bravo.