Chatting with Top Chef’s Rock of Gibraltar, Padma Lakshmi

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 29: Padma Lakshmi speaks onstage during the Women Changing The Conversation panel at HISTORYTalks Leadership & Legacy presented by HISTORY at Carnegie Hall on February 29, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for HISTORY)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 29: Padma Lakshmi speaks onstage during the Women Changing The Conversation panel at HISTORYTalks Leadership & Legacy presented by HISTORY at Carnegie Hall on February 29, 2020 in New York City. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for HISTORY) /

After 16 seasons, Padma Lakshmi remains the glue that holds Top Chef together.

It’s often said cooking and baking are best differentiated by a need for exacting measurements while baking that’s not as vital to the final product when cooking. Leaning heavily on those guidelines, it could be said that Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons are the constant and the precision upon which Top Chef’s excellence is consistently built.

Extrapolating our theory a step further, we’d suggest that Padma is the Rock of Gibraltar that holds Top Chef together. Her talent and versatility as host of the show, combined with the lightning-in-a-bottle-esque chemistry that she enjoys with Colicchio and Simmons are the reasons why her popularity continues to grow.

We asked Padma how Top Chef sustains its place as the gold standard for food tv.

“I think we are the gold standard because the focus is always on cooking good food, it’s more about technique, rather than gimmicks. Our caliber of talent is also excellent-we look for a diverse group of chefs representing what our country looks like right now.”

Whether on the show, through event appearances, or even on social media, Lakshmi clearly enjoys warm relationships with Top Chef contestants past and present. Knowing that posing this question would be tantamount to having her name her favorite Top Chef competitor, we put her on the spot nonetheless and asked which show alumni she’d bring in to cook if she was throwing a dinner party. In the spirit of fairness and acknowledging the cooking vs. baking difference from above, we gave her the option to bring in a second chef for the dessert course.

Kristen Kish is pretty versatile. She’s able to do both clean and minimalist, high-end cooking, with her own personal flare. She’s equally adept at making craveable, vegetable-forward small plates that are really fun to share in a large group. That’s what Arlo Grey, her restaurant in Austin is all about. And I’d have Carla Hall do dessert–she makes a great pie!”

While asking her to pick favorites, we also wondered which Top Chef locale she’s enjoyed the most.

“New Orleans was very family-friendly, which I loved because I could take my daughter everywhere. I also really enjoyed Seattle, because my corporate apartment was within walking distance of Pike Place Market.”

Speaking of her daughter Krishna, who enjoys a prominent, often dancing, or singing role in Padma’s social media videos, we couldn’t help but ask who takes the lead on food choices while being quarantined.

“Our home is not a democracy, but a benevolent dictatorship. I try to rule with kindness. While I am always interested in giving my family pleasure from the dishes I make, like any thoughtful monarch or dictator, their long-term well-being is my greatest concern. In all seriousness, I try to make sure of what we have so we don’t waste anything. Thankfully we have had access to fresh produce, so we’re trying to cook everything at home but as mindfully as we can.”

Identifying resourcefulness as a recurring theme in our conversation, we asked about Padma’s activism on behalf of Chef Jose Andres’ World Central Kitchen, James Beard Foundation’s Food and Beverage Industry Relief Fund, and Feeding America.

“I’m on the leadership committee for the James Beard Foundation’s Industry Relief Fund. I encourage my colleagues in restaurants and hospitality to check out their fantastic inventory of resources. Feeding America is also doing so much great work right now, especially in ensuring supplies get delivered to food banks so that meals reach those who desperately need them. And World Central Kitchen has served over 15 million meals to people working on the front lines of disasters all over the world and have stepped up once again to help families and front-line workers battling COVID-19. Jose Andres and his team have shown us what’s possible in a way that our federal government has failed to do.”

As Top Chef All Stars LA’s finale draws near, Padma’s new Hulu show premieres on June 19th.

“Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi” is a Hulu Original that she recently described on Instagram as “a project I’ve spent years developing. We traveled across the country visiting indigenous and immigrant communities to find our what American food is today. The process was incredibly emotional and rewarding, a journey I will never forget.”

In the same Instagram post, Padma shared a video message with fans that is palpably passionate, leaving no doubt how excited she is to finally bring “Taste the Nation” to viewers. Lakshmi visits 10 cities in the 10 episode season, which is described by Hulu as “a living cookbook made up more from people and culture than recipes.”

For Top Chef loyalists and Padma fans who are beginning to rue the nearing end of season 17, “Taste the Nation” should seamlessly grab the baton and leave foodies everywhere quite sated.

Using a sports metaphor, Padma Lakshmi is the ultimate slash–author/actress/television host/philanthropist/model/now-creator and producer, and her social media game is pretty on-point as well, so anyone who bemoans the downtime between Top Chef seasons need only stop by her Twitter or Instagram accounts to see what the talented and versatile personality has cooking.

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Are you excited to watch the new Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi? What is your favorite Top Chef Season?