Doneen Arquines’s summer camp contains Quickfires, wars, and last chances.
It comes with the territory of being executive producer of Top Chef, the Bravo network cooking show that debuted in March 2006 and is set for a twentieth season. Arquines started as a production assistant for the first season in San Francisco and has been on board ever since.
“Tom (Colicchio), our head judge, kind of calls it Top Chef Summer Camp because we come together once a year and do this crazy thing for a few months,” says Arquines (’05 Comm., Anthro.). “Then it’s over and we don’t see each other again until the next year.”
Arquines, who grew up in Marysville, north of Seattle, chose Washington State University to explore dual interests in television and anthropology. “The communication and anthropology programs were both where I wanted to be—they were high-level and respected,” recalls Arquines, who had never visited the Pullman campus before coming for freshman year.
The Murrow College of Communication gave Arquines plenty of opportunities to volunteer at Cable 8 and produce shows. “I was very lucky to have Neal Robison as my advisor before he retired,” Arquines says. “He was very supportive and so was (scholarly associate professor) Marvin Marcelo. Both of them were very much people I could go to and ask questions anytime I had them.”
When Marcelo asked Arquines during her senior year, “What do you want to do?” the answer was go to New York or Los Angeles. “He introduced me to some alumni who were down in LA and had already started to establish themselves,” Arquines says. “That really kind of helped me decide LA was going to be where I wanted to go.”
A couple of weeks after she moved, Arquines interviewed for a production assistant job on Top Chef. Even though it was the first season for the program, the production company behind the show Magical Elves had an established record as the producers of Project Runway. The format does not require year-round shoots, so early on Arquines had time to work on other projects as she was establishing herself in the industry. These days, she works on Top Chef year-round. “I have really grown with the show,” she says. “Top Chef has kind of been my life, and I have been able to move up through the ranks on
Doing many jobs meant Arquines had a hand in setting up challenges for the show, scouting suitable locations for filming, and eventually booking guest judges. That variety gave Arquines insight into how all the pieces fit together. She routinely strikes a balance between introducing new elements without jettisoning the most popular ones. “You definitely want to keep the audience that has been with you all these years happy with things they are familiar with, but you also want to keep them entertained with things they haven’t seen before,” Arquines explains.
The city locations have functioned as characters on the shows. Destination cities such as Boston, Miami, and Chicago have provided backdrops for fan favorites to battle for the title of “Top Chef.”
“The cities naturally lend themselves to different creatives we have never seen before,” Arquines says. “The US is so regionally diverse that we are able to get new dishes, new ideas, new chefs, and everything into the show in an organic way.”
That has been Arquines’s favorite part of her journey—digging in and learning about the food culture in various cities. Arquines says she has not necessarily become a better chef, but her range of food knowledge has increased.
“I was a very picky eater growing up, but being on the show and being exposed to really good food and great chefs has expanded my palate,” Arquines says. “There are things I wouldn’t touch as a teenager that I now love.”