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Top Chef producers uncover the secrets of the Quickfire Challenge

For 19 seasons, the gifted contestants of Bravo’s Emmy-winning Top Chef have been thrown into the depths of the reality competition show with the show’s signature Quickfire Challenge. While the Quickfire Challenge isn’t as fiendish as, say, “Chopped’s” baskets, it is fast-paced and built around themes or local ingredients or even cooking utensils (or lack thereof).

What usually comes out are unforgettable bites. But who is up for the challenge? The ‘Top Chef’ producers – all just as passionate about food and storytelling through the culinary arts as the chef testants – reveal the beans.

“When I come up with Quickfire Challenges, the first thing I start with is, ‘What’s a fun fact about our host city? Is it known for ramen? Was the fajita invented here? Does it have the largest Nigerian population? Is your local hero a sports star?’” says Thi Nguyen. “From there, I delve deeper into the backstory to create a challenge around it.”

Nguyen offered a quickfire example from the final season of the show Top Chef: Houston, in which chefs were asked to cook swallows, which are starches that are dipped into a stew or soup. “Nigerian cuisine is swallows and has so many rich spices and flavors,” says Nguyen. “But we’re not asking chefs to make their own swallow – we want them to experience it, be inspired and then translate it into their own interpretation.

“So how do you make that challenging?” Nguyen continues. “You break them up into groups at sips, let them draw from a knife and push them out of their comfort zone by introducing them to spices and ingredients they might not be familiar with. At the end of the day I look at how to build a challenge that will test them on their creativity, agility and/or skills. Quickfires are meant to be fun, exciting and not only work up a sweat, but also give you an entertaining little history lesson.”

Frank Crane, whose credits also include “MasterChef Junior” and “Below Deck”, says: “Everyone has their preferences, but the best thing about ‘Top Chef’ is the opportunity to explore a new city each year and find out what ingredients help build a sense of place.

“I love exploring new cities, but as a Southerner I’ve been patiently waiting to highlight my all-time favorite – queso! Houston was the perfect opportunity to “explore” my favorite food while also finding a way to turn this classic on its head and find a new way to approach something I’ve known all my life, which is what we hope from our chefs do: Take an ingredient they may already know and create something familiar in a whole new way.”

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Nick Wallace is under pressure in one of Top Chef’s season 19 rapid-fire challenges. (Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)
David Moir/Bravo

Another producer with stellar credentials in culinary shows is Justin Brooks, whose work on MasterChef USA has brought him together with world-class culinary talent. “I’m often asked what it’s like to come up with challenges for a show as big as ‘Top Chef,’ a show that prides itself on testing the most talented chefs in the culinary world,” he says. “You might think it would be so easy to test the chef’s cooking skills. But I would say there is a bit more to it than that. It’s really about creating a meaningful barrier for our chefs, not just to keep them engaged on live TV, but to provide new learning experiences that they couldn’t have had anywhere else. Whether they’re immersing themselves in a culture or using an ingredient they’ve never had to deal with, in the end, the best part of their job is watching them grow!”

Producer John Adams has worked with some of the best (“MasterChef Junior”) and the worst (“Nailed It! Mexico”) and says of the Quickfires, “I feel like a deep part of my brain is always working and thinking of challenges . Ideas and inspiration for a challenge come to my mind at random times: driving, at the gym, or sometimes just whatever I’m craving! Taking a deep dive into the host city really helps prime the brain to find some unique and little-known facts and then come up with a creative way to relate them to food. While I’m not a chef, I always try to think of fun, unique challenges and places that I personally want to participate in or experience.”

Producer Caitlyn Owens notes, “To be honest, I’ve been to Houston twice before season 19 of ‘Top Chef,’ and I can’t tell you where I went or what I experienced. But coming back with the show as a producer and falling in love with a city through its culinary culture and overwhelming hospitality was so unique. It was extremely inspiring to hear from local chefs about their passion for food and their city in particular. These hard working people were at the root of our Asian Night Market Challenge and gave our viewers a virtual taste of something you wouldn’t normally associate with Texas. Sharing even a small part of their stories on our show has made me proud to do what I do.”

https://variety.com/2022/tv/news/top-chef-bravo-designing-quickfire-challenges-1235306482/ Top Chef producers uncover the secrets of the Quickfire Challenge

Charles Jones

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