Jamie Tran, the executive chef and co-owner of the Vietnamese-influenced The Black Sheep in the southwest part of Las Vegas, competes on Season 18 of Top Chef, the Bravo reality series that pits 15 chefs against each other through challenges and massive meals. The show heads to Portland, Oregon, for this iteration, with filming at the Hood River Fruit Loop, Columbia River Gorge, Mount Hood, Tillamook Bay, Tualatin Valley, and Willamette Valley wine country when it starts airing with two weeks of supersized premieres starting on Thursday, April 1, from 8 to 9:15 p.m.
Tran says the producers of the show approached her about competing. “I didn’t want to do shows and stuff and I didn’t like competition,” she says, citing performance anxiety in general. “This is the first competition I’ve ever done.”
Already, a long trailer for the show gives viewers a chance to see Tran’s personality, making goofy sounds to demonstrate how she made a dish. “When I have anxiety or nervousness, I tend to make sound effects like that,” she says, making a whirling sound to represent a blender or a chopping sound for a cutting board.
“They understand me because they know me so well,” Tran says of her staff, who can interpret her sound effects. “Just being on the show, I think everything was overwhelming. It was just like full gear and I just forgot where I was. I just went full Jamie mode.”
The show filmed in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic from early September to late October, keeping contestants in a bubble in a Portland hotel with testing every other day for the cast and crew of 150. Instead of racing through a grocery store to pick up ingredients, contestants picked up their produce and proteins curbside. The season includes no large dinners or crowds. A preview of Season 18 teases cooking pan-African cuisine, feeding hundreds of front-line workers, and crabbing on the Oregon coast.
Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons return to the judges’ tables, with a rotating judging and dining panel that includes Top Chef veterans such as Richard Blais, Carrie Baird, Nina Compton, Tiffany Derry, Melissa King, Kristen Kish, Edward Lee, Kwame Onwuachi, Amar Santana, Dale Talde, Brooke Williamson, and Portland chef Gregory Gourdet.
Tran opened The Black Sheep in 2017 with Jon Schwalb and Andy Hooper, who has since left the restaurant to open his own eateries. The Black Sheep won an Eater Award for Restaurant of the Year while Tran earned an Eater Award for Chef of the Year in 2017 and is a member of the Eater 38. Tran melds her Vietnamese upbringing with French techniques she learned in the kitchens of Daniel Boulud’s DB Brasserie and Charlie Palmer’s Aureole at Mandalay Bay.
• All Coverage of The Black Sheep [ELV]