Rumors are circulating among restaurant industry folks that at least two D.C. chefs may be contestants in the latest season of Bravo’s Top Chef: Belga Café‘s Bart Vandaele (left) and The Brixton‘s Jeffrey Jew.

Although Bravo has not even officially announced the newest season, multiple spottings of camera crews, Top Chef alums, and judges over the past few weeks make it pretty clear that the show is being filmed in Seattle right now. And as it happens, Vandaele and Jew have been absent from their restaurants.

Belga manager Margarita Krivchikova says Vandaele is in Belgium and “we can not reach him.” She didn’t know exactly when the chef left or would be returning, but she did know that he wouldn’t be around next week for Belgian Restaurant Week, which happens to be a pretty big week for Belga.

Krivchikova says she doesn’t know anything about Vandaele filming Top Chef.  Y&H e-mailed Vandaele on Monday and has not heard back.

Meanwhile, Jew was nowhere to be found during opening week of The Brixton, the new British pub from restaurateurs Eric and Ian Hilton at 9th and U streets NW. Which, Y&H probably doesn’t have to point out, is sort of unusual for the chef of a brand-new restaurant. Jew was previously chef de cuisine at Marvin. His LinkedIn page shows he was also a chef at the Italian Embassy and chef de partie at Gordon Ramsay‘s former restaurant at The Connaught Hotel in London.

Sheldon Scott, a spokesperson for The Brixton and the Hilton brothers’ other restaurants, says Jew is “on travel” but did not say where. Scott also didn’t know exactly when Jew would be back, saying only that “he should be back soon.”

When asked if he knows anything about Jew filming Top Chef, Scott said, “Ummmm, no. Really?”

As for why Jew would be gone during the opening weeks of the restaurant, Scott says the chef had planned his travels before the opening dates were set. “I think he’s with his fiancee, if I’m not mistaken,” Scott added.

Y&H reached out to Jew via Facebook on Monday, but has not heard back. Chef James Claudio, who oversees the cuisine at all of the Hilton brothers’ establishments, has been leading the kitchen in the interim.

Top Chef contestants sign iron-clad confidentiality agreements when they go on the show, so it’s not unusual for chefs to make up elaborate lies about their whereabouts. When Good Stuff Eatery‘s Spike Mendelsohn appeared on season 4 in Chicago, he told everyone that he was traveling and cooking in Vietnam. He didn’t even tell his parents the truth. Instead, his sister sent messages to the rest of the family from Mendelsohn’s email address to keep up pretenses.

Bandolero and Graffiato chef Mike Isabella says he told people that he was in Los Angeles helping out at José Andrés‘ restaurant The Bazaar when he appeared on season 6 of Top Chef in Las Vegas. At the time, Isabella was working at Zaytinya and had helped open The Bazaar, which made the lie believable. When he shot Top Chef All Stars in 2010, he quit his job at Zaytinya and told people that he was in Italy doing research and development for a new restaurant. In fact, Isabella has never even been to Italy.

Isabella adds that contestants are allowed only one on-camera phone call per week during filming and that they have no access to the Internet. (So if Jew and Vandaele are filming the show, Y&H isn’t likely to hear back from them by email or Facebook.) Even after they’re kicked off, contestants stay in a “holding house,” so everyone arrives and leaves at the same time. “Rangers” watch over the cast to make sure they’re not breaking the rules. “If you go out, they go with you,” Isabella says.

Cynthia Arntzen of PR firm FerenComm, which represents Bravo, tells Y&H that no announcements about the location and cast for the next season of Top Chef have been made “and won’t for a while.”

Top Chef production typically lasts five or six weeks.

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