Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Documents shed light on 'Top Chef' deal

Gary Dinges
gdinges@statesman.com

Producers of Bravo's "Top Chef: Texas" got a total of $600,000 from the state and the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau for shooting the hit show in Texas, but there were some strings attached.

The deal includes a number of restrictions, such as limiting the broadcast of "explicit negative statements about the state" and barring underage drinking, gambling and illegal drug use by its hosts and judges.

The network and production company Magical Elves had initially sought to block access to the "brand integration agreement," but a Bravo spokeswoman said they no longer oppose its release and provided a copy to the American-Statesman.

Magical Elves filed suit against the Texas attorney general's office in early October after it ordered that several documents, including the brand integration agreement, be provided to news reporters who had requested copies.

The state's Economic Development and Tourism Division, part of the governor's office, provided $400,000 to the show's producers, and San Antonio, home base for this season of "Top Chef," offered up another $200,000.

Episodes began airing Nov. 2 and can be seen Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on Bravo.

"We're pleased with the outcome of our brand integration agreement thus far," said Lucy Nashed, a spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry. "The episodes have done a good job of highlighting to a broad audience what makes the Lone Star State unique: Texas sites, culture, food, activities, symbols and products."

Several companies with Texas ties have already advertised or have been featured on the show, Nashed said, including Toyota, which has an assembly plant in San Antonio.

The state estimates it will receive $15 million in exposure in exchange for its payment; San Antonio predicts in excess of $9 million in "positive media value."

"Top Chef" producers estimated spending would be $682,227 here — including $80,000 on rental cars and $197,227 on per-diems for travelers — in their presentation to city and state tourism officials, not counting airfare and hotel costs.

Other expenses without dollar amounts attached include luxury housing for contestants and the use of a studio and kitchen space in San Antonio for nine to 10 weeks.

More than 100 pages of documents the American-Statesman obtained from the City of San Antonio via an open records request provide details on how the show's ninth season zeroed in on the Alamo City and what viewers can expect.

In exchange for its cash payment, the city will play host to the bulk of this season's 17 episodes. A shooting schedule shows production began in late June and wrapped in early August.

Three episodes were taped in the Austin area. None has aired yet.

Details aren't provided on the venues visited, but reports on Twitter and other social media sites indicate the Salt Lick barbecue restaurant in Driftwood was among the stops.

Dallas is the other Texas city featured. It will also be included in three episodes.

In its pitch to producers, San Antonio tourism executives tout the city's "verdant" landscapes, as well as several tourist hot spots, including the Alamo, the River Walk, Market Square, La Villita and the Pearl Brewery.

"San Antonio looks great in the exposure Bravo has given our city so far, especially the dramatic season opener in front of the Alamo," said Casandra Matej, executive director of the San Antonio Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"We are quite confident that this creative way to market the destination's culinary and visitor attractions will pay off in a Texas-sized way."

The bureau pitched several themed episodes, including preparing meals for wounded warriors, making dishes featuring wild game from the Hill Country, cooking in a chuck wagon and a challenge that would involve contestants whipping up dishes using only foods fed to Shamu, Sea World's killer whale.

Another proposed contest, according to documents, would teach elementary and middle school students about healthy eating, noting that San Antonio has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the nation.

And, since this is Texas, city leaders suggested a barbecue cook-off. Of course.

gdinges@statesman.com; 912-5987