Why Top Chef Isn’t Filming In Indianapolis

The hit show will set its next season in our neighbor to the south. What gives?
Oh, burn! Top Chef will film the next season in Kentucky, which leaves us searching for answers in our bowls of pork belly ramen. If producers are willing to use Middle American locations after filming in food capitals like New York, Los Angeles, and Charleston, South Carolina, why not here? Indy has been gobbling up praise for its dining scene lately: We’ve been called America’s Most Underrated Food City by Condé Nast Traveler and one of America’s Favorite Food Cities by Food & Wine, and Eater just named Martha Hoover Empire Builder of the Year. Plus, if we’re good enough for Kimbal Musk, aren’t we ready for Top Chef?

Rest assured, the Bravo hit gave Indy a hard look, according to the person largely responsible for promoting Indy as a location for movies and television shows. Teresa Sabatine, Film Indy commissioner, says Indy “initially made the short list” after a 2016 pitch by Film Indy and Visit Indy. But “without state-level tax breaks or incentives,” she says, “the financial burden to host a production this size isn’t feasible. It becomes a pay-to-play.” Indiana is in the minority among states that don’t offer financial assistance to production crews since our film-production tax (which created a coffer to use to woo TV and movies) lapsed in 2012. Sabatine has been trying to revive the fund since she came on board last year.

Indy made a strong pitch, Sabatine says. “The diversity of new food locations and James Beard nominations was our lead in whetting their appetite,” she says. “There’s also a large number of highly anticipated restaurants opening their doors, like Ukiyo, Beholder, Inferno Room, Crispy Bird, and more. We reviewed the diversity of our chefs and their culinary expertise, the amount of quality farms surrounding the city and producing meats and produce for our local restaurants, and we highlighted our neighborhoods that continue to grow as culinary hotspots. Our pitch included the opportunity for us to host producers to the city and meet with our chefs and dine at our restaurants first-hand.”

However, the producers didn’t come for a site visit because they knew money would be an issue. Or maybe Padma knew she would eventually be GIF’ed making St. Elmo shrimp cocktail face. Creatively, Sabatine says, the only critique the producers gave was that they weren’t sure Indy itself could carry the season as a location. Kentucky’s season will be shot in Louisville, Lexington, and Lake Cumberland. “They were looking for more of a Midwest tour,” Sabatine says. Had she been able to show them around, she might have changed their minds. “This is a key reason why we are working hard on building the Indianapolis film and media fund,” she says. “It would not only help us have the financials to close deals with shows like Top Chef but also allow us to invest in local content and filmmakers who can authentically tell our stories and create diverse content showcasing our city.”

Lest you think Top Chef host cities end up suffering in some way like Olympics locations do, Sabatine says it’s not true. “When we carefully examined the benefits of putting in a bid to host this show, like putting Indy in the national spotlight, local residents working on the show, and the tourism money left behind by the crew,” she says, “we knew it would be great for our city.”

For now, woulda-been filming locations like Traders Point Creamery (we’re guessing) will just remain our little secret. But Top Chef is welcome to pack up its knives and come to town anytime.