Host Padma Lakshmi has spoken out on Twitter about the controversy surrounding Top Chef's latest winner Gabe Erales. Erales beat out competitors Dawn Burrell and Shota Nakajima and won the $250,000 cash prize in the season 18 finale on July 1, and people were quick to point out a December 2020 report that claimed the chef was no longer employed at a restaurant after "repeated violations" of company policies.
Lakshmi, who has been a vocal supporter of the Me Too movement, took to Twitter to address the uproar over Erales victory. "As someone who has been sexually harassed, this topic is a serious one and merits openness," Lakshmi tweeted. "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." Lakshmi sent out a follow-up tweet explaining that she had not noticed any inappropriate behavior from Erales on set. "To be clear, 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," she wrote.
Bravo declined to comment on the situation, but a source close to production told E! News, "The production team looked into Gabe's behavior on set and found no indication of anything inappropriate. There have been no official reports of allegations against Gabe." The Austin Chronicle confirmed in December that Erales no longer worked at the celebrated restaurant Comedor. "Comedor Executive Chef Gabe Erales is no longer with the restaurant due to repeated violation of our policies and for behavior in conflict with our values," Comedor's co-owners said in an email via Austin Chronicle. "In his absence, Chef and Comedor partner Philip Speer will be helming the kitchen. After the New Year, we will begin the search for a permanent replacement."
Erales told the Austin American-Statesman that he had a "consensual sexual relationship" with a female employee, and after his time on Top Chef, he cut her hours due to a "decline in her performance." Speer disagreed with the decision, and Erales was fired for "alleged violations of company policies relating to harassment of women."
"After I returned from Top Chef, I made some business decisions as a manager that affected this employee and were found to be discriminatory and I realized that those were bad decisions," Erales said. "I've spent the last six months 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.