‘Top Chef’ Tom Colicchio on Gabe Erales Fallout: The Show Vets ‘People Very, Very Closely’

Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio said the series has always vetted cast members closely and addressed harassment allegations against winner Gabe Erales.

Erales won Top Chef Season 18 but was later fired from his job at Comedor for harassing a female employee he previously dated. He was dismissed for “repeated violations of our policies and for behavior in conflict with our values,” via Eater Austin.

Colicchio reflected on the obscurity of those initial remarks but said the show tasks cheftestants with a lengthy vetting process.

‘Top Chef’ cheftestants go through a lengthy vetting process

Colicchio described the cheftestant vetting process as being considerable. “It’s a pretty lengthy process and there’s all kinds of evaluations that are done,” he told The Daily Beast.

'Top Chef' cheftestants line up for evaluation during season 18
Gabe Erales, Chris Viaud, Sara Hauman, Dawn Burrell, Jamie Tran, Maria Mazon, Byron Gomez, Shota Nakajima |David Moir/Bravo

But he admitted that there wasn’t much the production team could do once harassment charges were made against Erales. “And when we were aware of it, it was after the fact, so there wasn’t a whole lot we could do,” he said.

“I think, the first season aside—we had some real difficulties with one of the contestants—after the first season they got much more strict,” he said. “So we vet people very, very closely.

Tom Colicchio wasn’t sure if Gabe Erales violated a no-fraternization policy

While he’s not involved in vetting cheftestants, Colicchio wondered if perhaps Erales had instead violated a policy like no fraternizing with other employees. “So it’s unfortunate that allegations like this were made,” he remarked. “Because [Gabe] is a very talented chef and he won his season. You can’t take that away from him.”

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“And I’ll just say one more thing,” he added. “You asked me if I spoke out against it. My wife worked for me and she was a server in a restaurant that I worked at. So we had a consensual relationship, we fell in love and got married. That said, personally, in my company, we have a non-fraternization policy. So when these allegations were made and we found out that Gabe was let go, my assumption was that the company he worked for had a non-fraternization policy. Originally, we were told he ‘broke policy.’ What the hell does that mean? That’s all we were told.”

“Until the day of our finale, then it was called sexual harassment,” he recalled. “Prior to that, we were told he was fired for breaking violations, for breaking policy. That could be anything. So really, I have nothing to say, because a lot of it was just rumor and innuendo. I mean, he got fired. That’s between him and his boss, really.”

Where is Gabe Erales today?

Colicchio talked about the beating the restaurant industry has taken, which seemed to impact Erales’ new project. Erales planned to open the Mexican restaurant Bacalar in early 2022, but the open date was pushed back to 2023.

“And things were fine leading up to December or getting better. But then Omicron really put us back on our heels again,” Colicchio said about the restaurant industry. He added, “I think restaurants are going to try to find revenue streams wherever they can find them. But I also think, just knowing how restaurants run, that if we get back to full capacity, a lot of these little side things that people are doing are going to go to the wayside because they’re not going to have the bandwidth to do them.”

Top Chef Season 19 premieres Thursday, March 3 at 9/8c on Bravo.

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