'Top Chef' facing backlash for filming episode at historic plantation

The new season of Bravo's long-running cooking competition series "Top Chef" premiered Dec. 1. But the show's opener has already stirred up some off-camera drama for its decision to film on a historic plantation.

Chefs on the show's 14th season, which is set in Charleston, S.C., spent a portion of the first episode at Boone Hall Plantation-- a 17th century farm where slaves worked until the Civil War era. The property is one of the country's oldest working plantations and still displays original cabins where African American slaves lived.

According to Eater, the episode "briefly acknowledged" the history of Boone Hall before participants dove into the week's challenge.

Gerald Sombright, a black contestant, commented on the "surreal nature" of the filming location, admitting "it’s so beautiful, but also this is a place where people were treated as less than a human being and had an experience that we as a country are still trying to get out of now."


But after the episode aired, many on social media began criticizing the show's decision to film at Boone as insensitive, the Charleston City Paper reported. Some even likened the location to filming at Auschwitz.

At least one viewer also took issue with Padma Lakshmi's language as she introduced viewers to Boone Hall. Rather than actually using the word “slaves," the host referred to the plantation's former black residents as “those who worked and toiled here.”

On Sunday, judge Tom Colicchio explained the show's decision to film on the plantation via Twitter.

“We could have easily cut out where we were shooting and played as a location near a marsh,” he tweeted, but instead, Colicchio said that they wanted to “show the complete history of Charleston.”

He continued to engage with disappointed fans and offered an apology statement Monday.

As of Wednesday, Colicchio has been the only personality from the show to address the controversy. A representative for Bravo TV was not immediately available for comment.  


Despite the current controversy, Bravo isn't the first channel to air a cooking show filmed on a plantation.

An episode of “Food Nation with Bobby Flay” was filmed in Plantation Country in Louisiana and featured stops at the Nottoway Plantation House and the White Oak Plantation. And chefs on “Top Chef” season 5 visited the Houmas House Plantation and Gardens-- an old sugar plantation just outside New Orleans.