Our papparazzi crew arrived on the scene at Le Bernardin last night just as Padma, Colicchio, Eric Ripert, and a mystery judge were finishing up their dinner, discussing their thoughts on the meal. Through the gauzy screen on the streetside windows, one could make out the foursome (The Ripper dominating conversation) at a center table under three huge film lights, surrounded by cameras, production assistants, and regular diners/extras trying their hardest not to watch the filming.
As passersby peeked in to see the episode in action, the gang of PAs outside made it their job to thwart any shots of the cheftestants and the celeb judges when they were whisked into various vans, cabs, and black cars. But you didn't really want the entire show spoiled did you? A few highlights from the stake out.
1) The mystery judge looked to be a shorter and more rotund Colicchio. He wore glasses and was balding but not shaven (a la the Colizz). If you can think of an important food figure that fits the description (and it's not Bret Thorn), and would be judging a Ripert-centric episode, do tell.
2) Padma was the first to leave, in her own black Town car. Ripert left later in a black Suburban (possibly with the mystery judge), and Colicchio went last—also in his own black SUV—after a quick change out of his suit. Off to film the judges table.
3) The PAs piled about 10 people into one of their notorious white vans, some possible cheftestants, some film crew. A woman with long brown hair (but not our Leah Cohen) sat up front while the back was packed with 9 or so younger guys, almost all wearing baseball hats, all indecipherable from one another. No one was instantly recognizable from the original papparazzi shots, and we have the feeling the majority were PAs.
4) Once the first van left, a second pulled up. But instead of packing the remaining cheftestants in, a blond woman in a nice dress escorted what looked to be two female cheftestants and one man (who we're pretty sure is this guy) around the back into a waiting taxi. One chef looked a lot like this girl in the green hat, while the other had similar long blond hair but was a little less striking. Great decoy move Magical Elves.
5) We left the scene around 8:45 and by 9 p.m. all signs of the filming were gone. Says a tipster who went to the restaurant an hour early for a 10 p.m. resy: "Unfortunately from 9:05pm through 12:25am when we left (30 minutes ago), there were no signs of any top chef activity, famous celebrities, or production crews present. We are thinking that they may have set up a decoy."
6) Cutlets sent their own spy to check out the scene on the earlier side of the evening. They were similarly thwarted by PAs getting into their shots, but they did hear this tidbit: "I overhear that there are six chefs in the kitchen, and something about lots of knives. Six cheftestants left, or Eric Ripert, Colicchio, and four chefs?"
7) Since anyone with a reservation between 7 - 8 p.m. would have seen the entire episode in action and heard the judges remarks, we're guessing they were all plants. But any rogue operators out there with the scoop, we'll gladly listen and, natch, keep it anon.
· Top Chef Mega-Spoilage: Top Chef Filming Tomorrow Night at Le Bernardin [~E~]
· All Top Chef Coverage [~E~]