Padma Lakshmi says a controversy involving the latest "Top Chef" winner "should be investigated" after viewers brought up a report from last year about Gabe Erales losing his job at a restaurant for what the co-owners said was misconduct.
After Erales claimed the $250,000 prize as the winner of season 18 of the hit Bravo series on July 1, viewers circulated a December 2020 report by the Austin Chronicle that said Erales was fired from his position as executive chef of Comedor in Austin, Texas, due to his behavior and "repeated violation" of policies, according to the co-owners.
Lakshmi, a judge and host on "Top Chef," tweeted about the controversy a day after Erales took the prize as the winner. His firing from Comedor came two months after the filming of season 18 of "Top Chef."
"As someone who has been sexually harassed, this topic is a serious one and merits openness," she wrote. "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.
"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."
Bravo, which is owned by TODAY's parent company, NBCUniversal, declined to comment, but a source close to production told TODAY that "Top Chef" filmed in September and (the production team) didn't learn about his departure from Comedor until December.
"They looked into the reasons (behind his departure) and found no indication of inappropriate behavior or complaints about his behavior during production," said the source.
TODAY reached out to Lakshmi and Erales for additional comment but did not receive a response.
Erales told the Austin-American Statesman last week, following his victory, that he had a "consensual sexual relationship" with a staffer at Comedor last summer. He said, after he returned from filming "Top Chef," he cut the woman's hours due to an alleged decline in her job performance.
However, Comedor co-owner Philip Speer told the newspaper that Erales was fired for violating the company's policies regarding "harassment of women." Erales said it was because of "business decisions."
"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 Austin-American Statesman. "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."
Speer told the Austin Chronicle in December that Erales had been fired due to misconduct.
"There were behaviors that went against our company policy that was clearly stated, (and) a major conflict of our core values," he said. "I believe that radical change starts with radical action."
Erales had been with Comedor since its opening in 2019 after previously working at a trio of Austin restaurants, as well as the famous Noma locations in Mexico City and Copenhagen.