Byron Gomez On ‘Top Chef’ Mentorship And Celebrity Chef Culture – Zagat

December 13, 2021 by No Comments

The idea of who creates food media—and who it belongs to—is changing, for the better.

Zagat Stories presents Restaurants 21/22, a collection of interviews with leading voices in dining, hospitality, food, tech, politics and more. Each story takes the turning of the calendar as an inflection point to consider what happened in 2021, or what’s likely to happen in 2022, in the world of restaurants and food. See all stories here. And feel free to check out last year’s collection as well.

Byron Gomez is a self-taught chef who worked his way into Michelin-starred kitchens under the tutelage of culinary icons like Daniel Boulud and Daniel Humm. Today, Gomez is executive chef at 7908 Aspen and a recent contestant of Top Chef: Portland (season 18). On Top Chef, Gomez made history as the first Costa Rican contestant and DACA recipient to appear on the show. Top Chef: Portland was filmed in 2020 during a global pandemic and national reckoning with racism—two elements that inspired the most diverse and unique season to date.

At first, I didn’t really think about the magnitude and ripple effect of being on Top Chef. When I was there, I focused on my food and cooking. The most important thing for me was telling my story. The fact that I could do so on that kind of platform is amazing.

Top Chef reached out in April 2020 during the pandemic. I remember hanging up the phone and saying, “Fucking Top Chef just called me. This is crazy.” Everyone and their mothers had time off because of the pandemic. Everyone’s restaurants were closed, so everyone had this extra time to do television, interviews, or something they normally wouldn’t do.

I didn’t get the final notice until mid-July. That whole time, I was doing different interviews and going through different steps, knowing I could get dropped at any moment. You have to be very patient because, after the third step, you’re like, “All right, it’s been a month and a half already, and no one has answered. What’s going on?”

In the casting process, they build you up for what’s to come on the show to see if you’re going to break before you even make it to filming. The casting process was a lot of anxiety, anticipation, and nervousness—a lot of wondering if I should have said this instead of that. To be one of the fifteen people to get chosen from around the country at a time when the world was upside down was pretty historic, I would say.

Byron Gomez. Photo: Stonehouse Pictures.

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