The team behind the hit cooking show Top Chef have looked back at an early incident that saw French chef Hubert Keller unexpectedly lose his temper.
Since its 2006 debut on Bravo, Top Chef has aired 20 seasons so far. The success of the show has led to several spin-offs, including versions featuring children (Top Chef Junior) and home cooks, rather than professional chefs (Top Chef Amateur).
In a new extended interview with The Hollywood Reporter, presenter Padma Lakshmi, former Bravo executive Andy Cohen and other insiders discussed the journey the show has taken since its launch.
One part of the conversation looks back at when Keller, usually known to viewers for his affable personality, had a “hissy fit” after a contestant interfered with his sauce.
Shauna Minoprio, Top Chef’s former showrunner, told of how their first scenes were shot in Keller’s now-closed restaurant, Fleur de Lys.
“A very tiny, very upscale San Francisco institution,” she said. “The chefs were smoking outside by the bins, rotating time in the kitchen to help prep as the first challenge, and suddenly Hubert explodes.”
Frances Berwick, who was Bravo’s executive vice president of programming, remembered Keller exclaiming: “Nobody puts their finger in my sauce!”
Minoprio continued: “He has a massive French-chef hissy fit at one of the chefs, and I think to myself, ‘Yep, we’ve got a show.’”
Jane Lipsitz, the show’s executive producer until 2019, remembered being surprised at the chef’s reaction due to his normal friendly nature.
“Hubert’s the most lovely human, so I was thinking, ‘How is this going off the rails on day one?’” she added.
The chefs, who were competing for $100,000 as well as high-profile features and job opportunities, all lived together, which contributed to feelings of tension in the kitchen.
Another former exec producer, Dan Cutforth, said: “That finger-in-the-sauce chef, Ken [Lee], suffered from night terrors and woke up screaming that first night. When he finally got in a kitchen, he was sharpening his knives all over-the-top and intimidating. People were genuinely terrified of him.”
Lee was ultimately the first-ever contestant to be eliminated.