Top Chef Amateurs is the newest addition to Bravo‘s Top Chef franchise, and once again production company Magical Elves has worked their… well, magic. The spinoff series features Top Chef superfans as they’re paired with some of their favorite contestants to see how they handle the heat of the competitive kitchen.
But what made that idea interesting in the first place? How does the show keep things interesting while also keeping them reasonable for these amateur chefs? To get the dish on Top Chef Amateurs, I connected with Cat Sullivan, one of the show’s executive producers, who gave me some insight into what the series brings to the proverbial table.
Brittany Frederick: There have already been a few Top Chef spinoffs, so what about this idea made you interested in another one?
Cat Sullivan: Recently there’s been a lot of interest in seeing amateurs and home cooks succeed in the competition space. I thought that was really interesting to do that with the scope of Top Chef. Top Chef has such a passionate fanbase—there’s so many super fans, people who have just been following the show for however many years. They like to participate and do the same things that they see on the show at home…The joy that these people are having on camera just radiates off the screen and it’s really contagious. I think something that people really gravitate towards now is just seeing that pure joy and people having fun.
BF: Every Top Chef Amateurs episode features two contestants who serve as mentors. With so many Top Chef alumni, how did you decide who to bring back for this show?
CS: Scheduling was definitely into it. There’s so many great Top Chef alumni but we wanted to have a great mix of people that have different cooking styles, bring different perspectives to the table and that are huge fan favorites. I think all Top Chef alumni have a fanbase, so it’s definitely really hard to lock in on who you’re going to choose, because you can only choose so many!
But I’m really happy with who we got because we have people from the earlier seasons to the more recent. I think that’s really important when you’re trying to show the scope of a show, and how it’s grown and how these people that are on the show still have such a love and affinity for it.
BF: What was the process in deciding which Top Chef alums would cook with which amateurs? Were you looking for certain things in the pairings or was it random?
CS: There’s a lot of thought that goes into it. It’s like doing a giant jigsaw puzzle. How are the amateurs going to fit with their mentors? How are they going to feel about their judges? And the whole show is about excitement and pushing forth that enjoyment. There’s so much staring at a board and moving pictures around and trying to figure out how do you get the best energy and that special spark on camera that’s going to go through, where people are going to want to watch. We put a ton of thought of how do we match these people up and make the best show possible?
Obviously our amateurs had some favorite Top Chefs going into it, so we definitely had those in mind. How can we really create this incredible experience for them and make all their dreams come true? At the end of the day, we had such an incredible cast and such an incredible judging panel that if you put any of them together it would really pop.
BF: How would you describe the Top Chef Amateurs filming experience? Did you have to make any changes to suit the skill level of your contestants, or the fact that you’re shooting during the COVID-19 pandemic?
CS: Top Chef Amateurs is shot on the Top Chef stage. We’re not really going out into the world, so shooting the show, I didn’t feel like there were any limitations creatively for us. We were able to shoot the show in a very safe way and we were able to shoot exactly what we would have shot if it was in any other year pre-pandemic. We were really able to do Top Chef justice and make this love letter to Top Chef fans and show these challenges that people have seen for years and years in a new light with amateurs doing it. It was still incredibly creative and it was a very fantastic experience.
We definitely used a lot of iconic Top Chef challenges, so our amateurs who know so much about the show, the minute that we started to describe the challenge they knew what they were getting into. It was an amazing thing, because they had such a connection to the show that with just three words to lead into the meaning of the challenge, they already knew what was about to happen to them. They’re all really incredible and really fun to make and watch.
BF: You’ve worked on other competition shows before, including other cooking competition series, so what stands out to you about this one? What would you say makes this series different and worth the time to watch?
CS: It’s a very unique show in that it’s all about joy, and I think that’s the new era of competition shows. It’s no longer about being cutthroat competition. People are interested in just watching things that can be enjoyable and really leaning into that positivity. Top Chef Amateurs was such a joy to produce and it was very fun to see it come together.
I think it’s something that Top Chef fans will love to watch, but I think it goes beyond Top Chef fans and is a great gateway for someone that hasn’t watched Top Chef to get into the whole series and learn why there is such a love for it. It’s very accessible and it’s a great way to spend 30 minutes and have a fun night watching someone cook.
Top Chef Amateurs airs Thursdays at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo and is produced by Magical Elves.
Article content is (c)2020-2021 Brittany Frederick and may not be excerpted or reproduced without express written permission by the author. Follow me on Twitter at @BFTVTwtr, on Instagram at @BFTVGram.