Top Chef Amateurs EP Cat Sullivan Explains How Series Came to Be

Top Chef Amateurs is the latest spin-off from the popular Top Chef franchise. This sees fans of the show getting to team up with some of their favorite chefs and get their cooking talents tested by a panel of expert judges. New episodes air Thursdays on Bravo at 9 p.m. ET.

ComingSoon Editor-in-Chief Tyler Treese spoke with Magical Elves and Top Chef Amateurs executive producer Cat Sullivan about the series and what makes it so unique.

Tyler Treese: Top Chef Amateurs is such a fun spin on the normal format. Has this idea been discussed behind-the-scenes for a while now or how did it come to be?

Cat Sullivan: I came on to the process when the show was kind of already formed, but we spent a lot of time formatting and trying to figure out exactly what Top Chef Amateurs meant and what that would be. We spent so much time researching Top Chef and really digging into what people love about the show. We spent a lot of time going through everything that makes Top Chef what it is, and kind of whittled that down to what you see on Top Chef Amateurs.

A chef and a contestant working together is such a really interesting format. Sometimes they gel really well, but their styles might not always match up. Are there any personality clashes to expect later in the season?

Honestly, our mentors and our Top Chef Amateurs, they all got along very well. And our chefs that we’re so familiar with at Top Chef, sometimes they were impressed or they were learning things from our amateurs, so it was really this amazing communal experience. There was never really a clash, it was always very supportive between the contestants and also between the mentors. I think the mentors had fun competing against each other, but it was all in good fun. There was never any sort of big clash.

What went into the decisions of which chefs to bring back in this sort of mentor/all- star role?

I think for the mentors, we were just really looking to bring back some of the favorites from across the Top Chef seasons. We knew that anyone that we would bring back from Top Chef would be an amazing addition in this role, but unfortunately we could only pick a few. Since we couldn’t have everyone come back, we really just looked at – how do we bring back a mentorship group that comes from different backgrounds and different cooking methods, and bring them all together to really create a dynamic show and get our amateurs excited too. Our amateurs also had certain mentors that they were really drawn to or maybe really admired, so it took some time to pair them up and really create those dynamic teams.

Top Chef Amateurs

(Photo by: David Moir/Bravo)

What I love about the show is the human element. I’m not a big cook, but I’m still rooting for the people from their interviews and it’s such a fun watch. Can you discuss how important it is to not just show great food but the people that make it as well?

For us, when we were casting the show, that was a big, big part of how we put the show together. We were looking at not only could these amateurs cook, but also who were they on a personal level, what kind of stories did they bring, and what connections did they have to the main show Top Chef. A lot of our contestants had their own personal experiences from watching season after season of Top Chef. And on top of that, they had their own personal experiences or their own backgrounds, that they were able to bring different cuisines to the forefront that we may have not had on the show before. I think one of the really interesting backgrounds I love is that we had a contestant who actually went and cooked every dish of Melissa King’s finale dinner from Top Chef All Stars, and she did that because she just loves the show and loves watching everything. So it definitely was a huge consideration when we were casting and putting people on the show. Really just wanting to show that Top Chef is a show that is unique because it’s able to bring people together in unexpected ways, and even though none of our cast members had met before they all shared this one love for Top Chef.

I enjoy the diversity of the chefs and getting to see such amazing food from all around the world. Can you discuss the importance of diversity and how it has helped Top Chef find audiences all over the world?

Diversity is hugely important, I think, in representation on television, but especially on Top Chef. Going into the casting process and going into the challenges that we were choosing, we’re always thinking about – how do we allow people to express themselves and bring their own backgrounds into the show, so that we can expand our audience’s knowledge of different cuisines and different techniques, and things of that nature. I think Top Chef is one of the shows that really expands people’s minds and it has such a great audience, and that audience is willing to learn. When those audience members, and now our Top Chef Amateurs, would see things on the Top Chef,  they would take that home and be like – how do I learn how to do that? What is that? They want to experiment, they want to go into areas that they might have not found on their own and explore those areas. And for Top Chef Amateurs, we really took a focus on how do we bring in different cuisine types, and expand people’s knowledge, and really highlight cuisines that we maybe necessarily don’t see, or backgrounds and diversity that we necessarily don’t get to see on TV on a day to day basis. We’re really fortunate that Top Chef has such an expansive audience, so we’re able to bring that to the forefront and really show off what our cast can do.

Whether you’re a Top Chef fanatic or someone checking it out for the first time, this is a very natural and easy way to get into the franchise with the amateur contestants. Can you tell our readers why this is a good jumping-on point if they’re not familiar and why it’s a good reason to return if they haven’t watched in a while?

I think that Top Chef Amateurs is so unique because it takes every iconic challenge or moment from Top Chef and it brings it into one show. It’s so approachable, if it didn’t have “Top Chef” on the front of it, you would still want to watch it. It’s just a great show, you’re watching two people compete, you’re watching people make amazing food, they’re getting to do very interesting challenges, and most importantly, they’re home cooks just like everyone who’s watching at home. So there’s a lot of connection there, you know, it’s just as easy for the people watching to be able to do what our contestants are doing on the show. I think Top Chef Amateurs is a very approachable way to get into the Top Chef world. And hopefully, if anyone hasn’t seen Top Chef, they’ll want to go and watch some seasons and learn about these moments, and see what the professionals are doing. Or maybe they love a mentor and they want to see how they were as a contestant on Top Chef. So, it’s definitely a very approachable way to watch and get into that Top Chef fandom and really learn why people love it.


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