Padma Lakshmi on 'Top Chef' Season 19 and How Her Daughter Has Grown Up on Set (Exclusive)

The longtime host talks to ET about the new season of 'Top Chef.'

As the longtime host of Top Chef, which returns for season 19 on Bravo, Padma Lakshimi has seen – and tasted – it all. “There have been a couple of doozies,” she tells ET’s Rachel Smith, explaining that “any chef, as great as he or she may be, can have an off day because you want to push the envelope.” And for every failed dish, there have been that many more savory successes that have led to 18 previous winners. 

And with the reality cooking competition set in Houston, Texas, this season, there’s bound to be many highs and lows as 15 new cheftestants are immersed in the diversity that represents the city’s culinary identity. “That really influences the challenges,” Lakshmi says, revealing that there will be challenges built around the Nigerian community, local Asian markets as well as the state’s beloved BBQ and Tex-Mex flavors. “It’s really, really infused the show with a lot of flavor, you know, literally and figuratively.”

Not only that, but the format changes introduced during season 18, with previous cheftestants – Dawn Burrell, Tiffany Derry, Melissa King, Kristen Kish, Shota Nakajima, Kwame Onwuachi, Brooke Williamson and others – returning as guest judges and mentors, will continue here. They, of course, will join returning fixtures, head judge Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons. “We also have a lot of alumni back,” Lakshmi says, explaining “that’s something that we pivoted and did in Portland because of COVID.”


She adds, “That was something the producers came up with creatively that I actually think even though it was out of necessity really made the show much better.”

Because Lakshmi spends between six to eight weeks each season filming, she really gets to know the chefs competing on the series. “We have a lot of memories,” she says. “I’m with them at such a pivotal, emotional time in their lives.” While she maintains a professional distance during the actual competition, once that’s over, “I become very close to them.”  

Also adding to the excitement of each new season is the rotation of world renowned chefs, revered culinary personalities and various celebrity guests. In the past, the latter group has included Ali Wong, Lena Waithe and Natalie Portman. The Black Swan actress, Lakshmi says, “is a super fan and we actually became friends because she came on and we had such a good time.” 

Another notable guest was Kelly Clarkson, who appeared on season 17’s All-Star competition. “When you hear Kelly Clarkson sing a cappella next to you, you get chills,” the host gushes, adding that “she was so nice to my daughter [Krishna Thea Lakshmi-Dell], who just trailed her and was like a little gadfly around her for the whole 11 hours that she was on set.”    


“Poor Kelly,” she continues. “Krishna was, like, outside her door, if not standing right next to her makeup chair every minute that we were filming.”
Born in 2010, Lakshmi’s soon-to-be 12-year-old daughter has “really grown up on the set of Top Chef,” the host says. “I went back to work six weeks after I had her because they had to shut down the show and wait for me while I gave birth.” Ever since then, Krishna has often joined her mother while filming on location. 

In addition to being on the set of Top Chef, Krishna also appeared on Taste the Nation during an episode about Lakshmi and her family’s experiences as immigrants and how they relate to America through food. At the time, Krishna revealed to her mother that she prefers pancakes over dosas. “I didn’t know what Krishna was going to say when I asked her if she liked one versus another,” Lakshmi told ET at the time. “Obviously, there was a little stab of pain in my heart, but it's hard to compete with sugar.”

While “she likes experimenting in the kitchen,” Lakshmi says now, it seems that Krishna is not interested in following in her mother’s culinary path. “She’s not like, ‘Oh I wanna be a chef.’ She wants to be a singer.”

Top Chef season 19 premieres with a supersized episode on Thursday, March 3 from 8 to 9:15 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.