Reality television IS one of life’s guilty pleasures, especially after a long day of work, or during one of those do-nothing-but-watch-TV weekends. This March, however, reality television will hit close to home as the newest season of Bravo’s Top Chef takes place here in Houston.
While Top Chef has previously produced the series in Texas, it wasn’t until now that there was a season that solely focused on Space City. With Houston serving as the backdrop, one of the show’s biggest highlights is ethnic identity; of course, because we’re in the nation’s most diverse city, and you’ll see that notion shine in Season 19.
“I think that’s what makes Houston so special and so different,” Top Chef Executive Producer Doneen Arquines of Magical Elves tells Houstonia. Arquines explains how impressed she was with the various cuisines that Houston has to offer. “I’ve been with Top Chef since Season One, and I don’t think people outside of Houston, or Texas for that matter, know how diverse it really is here and what is all there at your fingertips.”
Throughout the season’s challenges, you’ll see the cast visit a local Asian market and popular barbecue restaurants that help shape the Houston-influenced cooking show, adding character to the city we call home.
While most are familiar with the phrase “Don’t mess with Texas,” the Top Chef Season 19 challenges the chefs to do just that. Contestants placed their own spin on beloved Houston cuisines such as Tex-Mex and BBQ. Not to mention unique challenges this season like preparing space-friendly dishes for astronauts at Space Center Houston, whipping up authentic Nigerian dishes (as we’re home to one of the nation’s largest Nigerian populations), cooking alligator straight from the Gulf of Mexico, and perfecting Texas brisket.
But while the chefs are fighting for the Top Chef title, all will go head-to-head with another contender: Houston’s humidity. City residents will also find familiarity in the upcoming season, with the show’s signature challenge, Restaurant Wars, filmed inside POST Houston. There will also be tons of community involvement, with production looping in local chefs and pitmasters to add some additional background to how we do things in Houston. Chef Chris Williams of Lucille’s and Chef Dawn Burrell, a former Top Chef finalist from Season 18, make appearances, along with many more exciting familiar foodie faces.
But the real treat this season is the cast.
According to Arquines, Top Chef will show all 15 contestants diving into the endless possibilities of what they’re able to whip up, promising that this season will include a few dishes that you likely haven’t seen or heard of before. There’s a high level of expertise from all of the chefs in Season 19, hailing from acclaimed Michelin-star restaurants in Copenhagen, Paris, and San Francisco. Houston will double in representation this year, with Chef Evelyn García of Kin HTX, representing H-Town.
“The chefs this season set the show apart. There’s a level of great talent, but there’s also a really great camaraderie that you’ll see across the season,” Arquines says. They’re happy to be friends, but they also want to win, and that’s what makes it a competition.”
The forthcoming season will be all-encompassing, not only placing a spotlight on Houston’s cuisine, but offering a history lesson on all things Houston. Arquines recalls many moments and places where everyone is in awe of the city, not knowing the great history that comes with it.
“There were a lot of times that we took the chefs places, and they’re like, ‘I didn't really notice this,’ and ‘I didn't really know the history’ or ‘I knew it was here, but I didn't really know what it was about.’ So it was a learning experience for everyone.”
With much to look forward to, it’s hard for Arquines to pinpoint her favorite scene, but she simply says that there will be a lot of great moments on the show this season, and we’ll have to tune in to see for ourselves.
Top Chef premieres March 3 on Bravo, at 7 p.m. More information here.