Top Chef fans who can imagine themselves sampling contestants’ interpretations of shrimp-and-grits or claiming a seat for Restaurant Wars will have to subsist on fantasy for at least a little bit longer: A Bravo spokeswoman says the network is “still many weeks away” from determining participation opportunities for local residents.
And if the air of secrecy grates, get used to it. While the Charleston season under development marks the first time that the show has publicly disclosed its filming plans in advance, the competition’s success relies on suspense, so everyone involved in its production is required to observe strict rules regarding confidentiality.
“Past Top Chef contestants say they risked being sued for a million dollars if they divulged any information about the competition,” Washington D.C.’s City Paper reported in 2012, recounting how one-time contestant Spike Mendelsohn had to lie to his parents about his whereabouts; he sent them phony e-mails explaining his Internet connection was faulty because he was camped out in a Laotian treehouse (in reality, he was filming in Chicago.) Other contestants have woven tales for their employees involving research trips to Europe and consulting gigs in the Caribbean.
Extras aren’t expected to betray their loved ones in order to appear on the show, but they’re traditionally supplied very little information in advance of filming – “the only information we were given at the time was where to be, when, and a request for some canned goods,” Yimay Yang, a background diner on a Top Chef Texas episode, told Serious Eats – and barred from revealing any details before the show airs.
Yang landed her spot by knowing someone who knew someone. That’s traditionally been Top Chef’s casting strategy for extras: It’s not uncommon for people associated with the host venue to put together a guest list for producers. But in previous seasons, regular folks have at least had a shot at joining the herd: “Calling all #TopChef fans!,” Bravo tweeted last May. “Want to be a diner? E-mail email@example.com for more info. 21+ only.”
Bravo’s twitter handle is @BravoTV.