Padma Lakshmi Says She Was ‘Not Aware’ of Allegations Against Top Chef Winner: ‘This Should Be Investigated’
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Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi is calling for an investigation following the season finale of the show’s 18th season after allegations have surfaced about the winner.
On Thursday night, the Bravo series crowned its latest victor, Gabe Erales, after the Texas-based chef beat out competitors Dawn Burrell and Shota Nakajima. Erales made history as the first Mexican contestant to win the competition.
“One of the biggest things that has really warmed my heart is knowing that I am the first Mexican Top Chef,” Erales said on the episode. “I’m happy to be representing my culture, my cooking, and also a group of people that, really, operate the kitchens across the U.S.”
However, the news was soon met with controversy as allegations against the chef came to light.
According to The Austin Chronicle, Erales was fired in December 2020 from Austin, Texas-based restaurant Comedor (the show filmed in September and October.) “Effective immediately, 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,” said Comedor co-owners Philip Speer and William Ball in an email obtained by the outlet.
Despite vague details involving the allegations, Erales began trending on social media, leading to a series of tweets from host Padma Lakshmi urging Bravo not to take these allegations lightly.
“As someone who has been sexually harassed, this topic is a serious one and merits openness. 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 said on Twitter before noting that no allegations have been made directly to the network.
“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 added, clarifying to her followers.
Many fans of the show shared their confusion after the series made no mention of Erales’ win on its social media accounts, also pointing out that Erales didn’t appear on Andy Cohen’s Watch What Happens Live alongside the show’s judges, a custom from past seasons following the season finale.
On Friday, Erales spoke to Austin American-Statesman to clarify the allegations against him and his departure from the restaurant.
The outlet reports that Erales said he had a “consensual sexual relationship” with a female staffer at Comedor during summer 2020 and later cut the woman’s hours after returning from Top Chef filming due to an alleged decline in her performance. However, Speers told Statesman that he did not deem the staffer’s work as a sufficient reason, leading to Erales’ firing 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 told the publication. “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.”
A representative for Erales declined PEOPLE’s request for further comment on the situation.
Despite Bravo’s decision not to provide an official statement, a network representative tells PEOPLE that based on the information given, they made the decision to still air the recent Top Chef season, adding that there were no complaints about Erales on set and they aren’t aware of any “inappropriate behavior” during production.