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Louisiana taps into BP oil spill money to bring ‘Top Chef’ to New Orleans

  • top chef promo photo bravo 660.JPG

    Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio. (2012 NBCUniversal Media, LLC)

  • top chef panel 660 bravo.JPG

Bravo’s cooking elimination show “Top Chef” is headed to the Big Easy for its eleventh season – but having Tom, Padma and their team of cooking connoisseurs come to town doesn’t come cheap.

As first reported by The Times-Picayune and confirmed by FOX411’s Pop Tarts column, a total of $375,000 will be issued by Louisiana and the city of New Orleans tourism offices to sponsor the local “Top Chef: New Orleans” showdown – the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation will dish out $175,000 while the Louisiana Office of Tourism will make a $200,000 contribution.

The state tourism office’s $200,000 “Top Chef” handout will not come from taxpayer dollars, but rather a recovery fund established by BP following the devastating Deepwater Horizon disaster, which gushed for 87 days until it was capped in July 2010.

“Our job is to get tourism through Louisiana and we recognize that lots of that starts through New Orleans,” Jaque Berry, Communications Director Office of Lieutenant Governor, who represents the state office of tourism, told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “This usage (of funds) was intended when put aside. It’s to show the nation that Louisiana is in good shape and that the food and seafood are in good shape which is all true.”

And because of the state’s “friendly tax structure towards the (entertainment) industry,” Berry is confident the money will be well spent.

“People drive from all over to just be close to something like this,” he continued.

And Louisiana is not the first state to boost Bravo’s bank account in exchange for filming. The Times-Picayune also reports that the Texas state tourism office paid the show $400,000 for setting season nine in several of its cities, while Seattle is said to have forked out more than $300,000 to host the tenth season.

However, some critics argue that financing a Hollywood project such as “Top Chef” is a somewhat unappetizing decision.

“There are definitely useful areas for that [BP] money to go to – none of which are a cable television show. New Orleans is a city in need,” said entertainment and political publicist, Angie Olszewski, adding that it would have been a nice gesture on Bravo’s part to take to New Orleans without accepting the incentive. “Shame on Bravo.”

Others countered that payments in exchange for exposure are standard today in Hollywood.

“Governments all across America routinely [pay] TV and movie studios to shoot their programs and films in their jurisdictions. Everybody does it,” explained Matthew Vadum, Senior Editor at the Capital Research Center.

When approached for comment, Bravo directed us to the mission statement from New Orleans Travel, which indicates that The Louisiana Office of Tourism “partners with tourism professionals and industry stakeholders in private and public sectors to extend and enhance their efforts to reach domestic and international travel trade and consumers.”

“Our investment came from our normal budget...” Lea Sinclair of the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Corporation (NOTMC), which contributed $175,000, said. “The BP dollars we have received are being used for our summer online advertising campaign, per our guest request for those funds. We are happy to host ‘Top Chef’ in New Orleans and are glad they will also [film] shows throughout the state of Louisiana. It is exactly the type of show we target to gain valuable national exposure. We view this spend as an extension of our marketing campaign.”

And if all goes well in the area famed for its Cajun cuisine and jazz tunes when “Top Chef” descends, then it may prove to be a small price to pay.

“We more than expect we will receive exposure that far outweighs our investment. When we brought ‘Top Chef’ to New Orleans in 2008 for two finale shows, over 1.85 million viewers watched, giving ‘Top Chef’ the highest ratings the show had achieved to that date,” added Sinclair. “NOTMC is honored to welcome ‘Top Chef’ to New Orleans. We have tried to bring the show back since our first experience.”

Danielle Jones-Wesley contributed to this report

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