'Top Chef' Shocker: Padma Lakshmi Leaving After Season 20

The longtime host announced her departure Friday.

Top Chef shocker: Longtime host Padma Lakshmi is leaving after the 20th season.

Lakshmi announced her departure on Friday with a heartfelt message on social media, acknowledging that the decision to leave the Bravo cooking competition franchise was a "difficult" one. The announcement comes less than one week before the season 20 finale is set to air.

"After much soul searching, I have made the difficult decision to leave Top Chef," the 52-year-old wrote. "Having completed a glorious 20th season as host and executive producer, I am extremely proud to have been part of building such a successful show and of the impact it has had in the worlds of television and food."

"After 17 years, many of the cast and crew are like family to me and I will miss working alongside them dearly. I feel it's time to move on and need to make space for Taste the Nation, my books and other creative pursuits," Lakshmi continued.

She ended her note by expressing gratitude to Top Chef fans throughout the years: "I am deeply thankful to all of you for so many years of love and support."

See her message below.

“Padma Lakshmi leaves behind an incredible legacy on Bravo’s Top Chef. Her impact on the Emmy, James Beard and Critics’ Choice Award-winning series is undeniable. We are grateful to Padma for being a consummate host, judge and executive producer, and for bringing her ingenuity and exceptional palate to each episode where she ate every bite of food on the series for over 17 years and 19 seasons," a NBCUniversal spokesperson told ET in a statement. "She will always be part of the Top Chef and the NBCUniversal family and has a seat at the judges’ table anytime.”

Lakshmi joined Top Chef in 2006 during the Emmy-winning cooking competition show's second season, which was filmed in Los Angeles. She, along with franchise mainstays Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons, made up the crux of the judging panel, with professional chefs like Eric Ripert, Emeril Lagasse, the late Anthony Bourdain and others rotating in and out over the seasons. Lakshmi added an executive producer title in 2010.

For her part, Lakshmi was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award four times -- in 2009, 2020, 2021 and 2022 -- for Outstanding Host for a Reality Competition Program. In 2022, she won the Best Show Host award at the Critics' Choice Real TV Awards, which celebrates achievements in unscripted television.

The TV personality spoke to ET prior to the start of season 19, where she expressed astonishment over Top Chef's longevity. "Can you believe it? I don't know, I feel ancient when I hear that number!" Lakshmi said. "It's really nice to have such a long-standing show because your fans grow with you."

During Top Chef's 17th season and amid the coronavirus pandemic, Lakshmi launched her food travel series, Taste the Nation, on Hulu, which explores immigrant food cultures across the country and what defines American cuisine. 

"I also wanted to travel the country. I wanted to see on the ground, what does it mean to be American? Who gets to decide that? What is American food actually?" she told ET in June 2020. "It seemed to me, we were willing to embrace immigrant food and make it our own, but yet we were still unwilling to embrace the people that made that food. And that to me seems super hypocritical."

Lakshmi, who is also an accomplished author, acknowledged at the time that the pandemic had a big impact on how Top Chef moves forward. "We do want to address the current situation in the restaurant industry. Our show is based on those restaurants. We built Top Chef off the backs of professional chefs and their establishments," she said, referring to how the food and restaurant industry has changed due to the pandemic and protests against systemic racism revealed flaws in every industry, including one the series celebrates.

"We're also talking about how to make sure that we have greater diversity," Lakshmi said at the time. "It's just trying to look at the situation with fresh eyes because where we are demands it."