Seattle chef Shota Nakajima lost in the final competition on “Top Chef” on Thursday night. Now, controversy is swirling around winner Gabe Erales, who was accused of sexual harassment and fired from his job in December 2020 — and Seattle’s Edouardo Jordan, also accused of sexual misconduct, who was edited out of the finale.
After season 18 of “Top Chef” finished filming in Portland last fall, Erales, it has emerged, was terminated as executive chef of Austin’s Comedor for “repeated violations of the company’s ethics policy as it relates to harassment of women,” according to the Austin American-Statesman. Erales has admitted to cutting an employee’s hours after the end of a “consensual sexual relationship” with her when he returned from the Portland taping, also telling the American-Statesman that he continued communicating with her in an unprofessional manner.
Meanwhile, a source close to the show tells The Seattle Times that chef Edouardo Jordan, recently accused by 15 women of sexual misconduct or unwanted touching, was one of 12 guest diners at the finale where Erales beat out Seattle’s Shota Nakajima and Houston’s Dawn Burrell to win the title of “Top Chef” and $250,000. With the revelation of the allegations coming just two and a half weeks before the air date, Jordan was edited out of the final show.
A Bravo spokesperson declined to comment on Jordan’s role and on the network’s decision to air the season with a winner who’d since been fired for misconduct.
The source close to “Top Chef,” speaking on condition of anonymity as they are unauthorized to comment officially, said that production on the “Top Chef” season had already wrapped when Erales was terminated from his executive chef job last December, and that the network looked into his behavior on set and found nothing inappropriate. When it came to Jordan, the source said, the fact that 15 women had come forward with accusations led to his removal from the final episode. With no official allegations against Erales, they said, his termination was all the information the network had. The decision to go forward with airing the show was also made, the source said, in order to showcase the work of the group of chefs.
Nakajima, the Seattle finalist, spoke with The Seattle Times after the season finale about the allegations against Jordan, saying, “It’s — it’s hard. It’s — it’s hard, what he did. I’ve seen him as a father, which breaks my heart. It’s hard for me to respond, because I’m still processing what it is. I knew him as a person, too.” Nakajima said in his own restaurant operations, he has now “put management structures, in writing, in place” for recognizing and reckoning with harassment. “I’m going to try to keep doing my part,” he said. Nakajima has not yet responded to a request for comment on the emerging information about “Top Chef” winner Erales.
The source close to “Top Chef” said they were not aware of any current plans to revisit the outcome of the season. But it appears there may be more to come, with host Padma Lakshmi tweeting, “As someone who has been sexually harassed, this topic is a serious one and merits openness. We filmed Top Chef in October of last year & were not aware of the allegations now coming out about Gabe. This should be investigated & the network should consider its best action.” She also clarified that “no one has alleged sexual harassment on the record or otherwise to Bravo/Top Chef and we judges didn’t have any indication of inappropriate behavior from Gabe during his time on set.”
Erales is proceeding with plans to open an Austin restaurant after “really reflecting on these mistakes and taking the necessary steps to be a better husband, a father, a chef and a leader, through therapy, through spirituality,” he told the American-Statesman.
Jordan had announced the permanent closure of his Ravenna restaurant, Salare, just before the allegations against him came to light; his neighboring restaurant, Junebaby, remains temporarily closed.