How ‘Top Chef’ Cast the Best of the Best for Its ‘World All-Stars’ Season

TheWrap magazine: Some cheftestants took convincing while others were an easy yes, casting director Ron Mare says

Tom Goetter, Gabriel Rodriguez, Victoire Gouloubi, Ali Al Ghzawi, Buddha Lo, Sara Bradley, Amar Santana compete on "Top Chef" Season 20 (Bravo)
Tom Goetter, Gabriel Rodriguez, Victoire Gouloubi, Ali Al Ghzawi, Buddha Lo, Sara Bradley and Amar Santana compete on "Top Chef" Season 20 (Credit: Bravo)

This story about “Barry” first appeared in the Down to the Wire: Comedy issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine.

When Ron Mare, the SVP of casting at Magical Elves, learned about the “World All-Stars” theme for “Top Chef’s” milestone 20th season, he knew that Bravo — and viewers — wanted the best of the best.

On one hand, drawing from a pool of only past winners and runner-ups made things a little easier. But this wasn’t just an “All-Stars” season, it was a “World All-Stars” season. So Mare and his team had to expand their search to include talent from across the globe, including Asia, EMEA and South America.

“Time zones,” the casting veteran replied when asked what the biggest challenge of casting Season 20 was. “It was definitely a difficult thing to pull together.”

Identifying the cheftestants was the first task. Convincing them to return was the next. Some, like Dale McKay, the winner of the inaugural “Top Chef Canada” back in 2011, hadn’t competed in years.

“It was exciting to take people who hadn’t been on television for a long time and put them back in the spotlight,” Mare said. “The conversations early on with them were like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if I want to do this again.’ But once we explained it was going to be basically like the Top Chef Olympics, they said, ‘I’m 100% on board.’”

One person that didn’t take much convincing was Season 19 winner (and eventual Season 20 champ) Buddha Lo.

“He was an obvious choice,” Mare revealed. “He was like, ‘I can’t even believe you’re telling me that I get to do this again.’ He was an immediate yes. He’s built for things like this and he exceeds every time you put them in front of him.”

“With the network and Magical Elves, there’s nothing negative about being competitive,” Mare added. “We focus on the competitive aspect, and it’s a positive for us. ‘Top Chef’ takes people and puts them on a platform. It gives them so much more than what they had. It gives them an opportunity to shine, and it’s such an epic light.”

Read more from the Comedy/Variety/Reality/Nonfiction issue here.

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Photographed by Jeff Vespa for TheWrap