In Top Chef’s 15th season, Padma Lakshmi, along with the other judges on the show, will bite into bulls’ testicles. Pick that jaw up off the floor, for the bovine organs are famously called Rocky Mountain oysters, a delicacy in Colorado where the as-yet-unaired season of the series travels to. In addition to traversing the mountainous terrain, making traditional Denver omelettes and other regional culinary delights, 15 chefs from all over the world will compete in gruelling challenges like making an oven in snow. It’s all to win the coveted cash prize of $1,25,000 and the title of Top Chef. “Colorado is extremely beautiful but I’ve never spent as much time [there as I did while shooting],” says the former supermodel, actress and author. “For Indians, it will be quite a shock because we’re eating all kinds of strange meat [like bison, venison, elk].” But before we can get to season 15 like the rest of the world, we Indians see Lakshmi and company head to Charleston for the show’s 14th season. Like all Top Chef outings, the historical and cultural places in Charleston will influence the season’s challenges and recipes, providing a glimpse into traditional and regional American cuisine.
For 13 seasons now, Lakshmi has been delivering the show’s harshest line, “Please pack your knives and go”. The Bravo TV series doesn’t look like it’s slowing down any time soon. Still immensely popular, it’s also spawned spin-offs and country-specific versions all over the world like Top Chef Juniors, Top Chef Desserts, Top Chef South Africa, Top Chef Canada, etc. “Choosing a different city each season helps,” says Lakshmi about the series’ longevity. “The city definitely influences the challenges. Food is very local and should be; each season is tailor made and different based on the location.”
Despite pushing the boundaries continually and taking on more responsibilities – the 47-year-old is now an executive producer on the show – she doesn’t hesitate when asked about her favourite episode, it’s one that she thinks Top Chef was ahead of the curve with. Shortly before the American supreme court legalised all same-sex marriages in June 2015, Top Chef: California, season 13 filmed their Palm Springs episode. “I became an ordained minister and legally married 50 gay and lesbian couples,” she recalls. “This was especially emotional for me as I have many close friends who are gay and also because one of our producers decided to get married to her long-time girlfriend of more than 20 years. So for the whole crew I think this episode has an extra special feel.”
As of now, most of Lakshmi’s time is spent hosting Top Chef, but she wants to get some writing in and finish a book (which she remained tight-lipped about) by the end of next year. “I’m trying to spend more time with my daughter and more time reading for pleasure,” she concludes. Season 14 of Top Chef premiered on AXN.