A recent New York Times article about the new season of Top Chef includes details of how contestants responded to the aftermath of the season 18 finale. Shortly after the episode aired — and Austin chef Gabe Erales was named the winner — it was revealed that Erales was fired from at modern Mexican restaurant Comedor because of sexual harassment during his time at the job.
The New York Times spoke to contestants who said that Erales didn’t behave badly during the filming, but that they took issue with how the network and production company Bravo and Magical Elves dealt with what happened.
Detroit chef Kiki Louya, who competed in the same season, told the publication that it felt like a press rep from Bravo’s parent company NBCUniversal, who called her to talk about Erales, was working on “protect[ing] the brand at all costs,” which was disappointing to her because the show has a good platform to address these issues and the potential to make real change in the industry.
The New York Times also reported that because of nondisclosure agreements, no past Top Chef contestants can say anything about the filming of the show. Magical Elves told the Times that after Erales’s season, it added a “morality clause” to contracts, “broadened the pool of references” for potential contestants, and “hired an outside human resources firm to aid with casting.”
In 2019, Erales was the opening executive head chef of Comedor, which garnered acclaim throughout the state. Then, in December 2020, he was fired over “repeated violations of our policies and for behavior in conflict with our values,” explained chef and partner Philip Speer in an email at the time to Eater.
In February 2021, Bravo announced that Erales would compete in season 18 of the show, which had been filmed in the fall of 2020 before he was fired. Despite Speer’s statement, there was speculation in the Austin community and anonymous online forums as to the details of Erales’s behavior.
When Erales won the finale in July 2021, Statesman reported further details on why he was fired from Comedor, including “a consensual sexual relationship with a female member of his kitchen staff in the summer of 2020 — and then cutting her hours in November.”
After the Statesman article was published, Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi claimed that she wasn’t aware of the allegations against Erales and wanted the network to investigate what happened. Statesman also reported that an anonymous source who worked on Top Chef shared that there was “no problematic behavior” on the set and that the show never thought about re-cutting the season around Erales because “scrapping the entire season would not be fair to the other 14 chef contestants and a production team that endured the challenges of the pandemic to produce the show.”
In March 2022, Top Chef host Tom Colicchio was asked about Erales in an interview by the Daily Beast. When asked about how he felt about when he learned what really happened with Erales at Comedor, he responded “it’s in the past.” When pressed further about it, he said that “this certainly didn’t rise to the occasion of some of the other chefs” and that “we never once heard from the woman who he had an affair with and it was a consensual affair.” Ultimately, he said that it was “unfortunate that allegations like this were made, because [Gabe] is a very talented chef and he won his season. You can’t take that away from him.” Colicchio compared the situation to his relationship with his wife when she was a server at his restaurant which had a “non-fraternization policy,” and said he assumed the same thing happened with Erales.
Currently, Erales is opening two Austin restaurants in downtown Austin this year, a Mexican restaurant called Bacalar, which he announced as soon as his winning episode aired, and a cafe with tacos, agua frescas, and coffee called Tomalo in the forthcoming development at 44 East Avenue in Rainey.