Padma Lakshmi Looks Back at What Made ‘Top Chef’ So Compelling: ‘It’s Not Always the Best Chef That Wins’

“You don’t have to be a professional to be really passionate about food,” she she tells CNN’s Chris Wallace

Padma Lakshmi on "Who's Talking to Chris Wallace?"
Max/CNN

Former “Top Chef” host Padma Lakshmi appeared on “Who’s Talking to Chris Wallace?” this week on Max to reflect on her 17 years hosting the cooking show.

Wallace asked Lakshmi about the contestants and the intense conditions they perform under, from heat to crowdedness, and she of course added knives and fire.

“You gotta be kind of a mad genius don’t you?” Wallace asked.

“To a certain extent, yes, there is a personality type, and it’s not always the best chef that wins ‘Top Chef,’ it’s the guy or the woman who did the best that day,” Lakshmi said. “Sort of like the best team not necessarily wins the World Series, right? So it’s very compelling to watch. I think it’s always compelling to see people strive to be the best at what they do.”

Wallace also asked Lakshmi why she thinks the show has been popular for so long.

“American food is much more regional than people realize, and I think it’s because of the contestants. I think they’re the real stars of our show. And I think it’s because everyone has very, very fully formed opinions about food,” she said. “You don’t have to be a food professional, to really be passionate about food or know what you really like or don’t. And it’s very compelling to see people be so, so anxious and such strive so hard to be the best at their craft.”

Lakshmi announced that she was stepping down from the competitive cooking show at the beginning of June. The second season of her show “Taste the Nation” is now streaming on Hulu. Wallace asked her about the Cambodia episode.

“The Cambodian episode is really my answer to many people who say we shouldn’t be letting in all of these refugees and asylum seekers because they’re going to, you know, take away our jobs and drain our resources,” Lakshmi said.”Well, we went to Lowell, Massachusetts, which is this tawny New England town, but it did go through a very difficult period. It was gang infested. It was drug infested. It was a factory town that went bust, And because it was so cheap, Cambodians came there.”

“They were largely illiterate. They didn’t know the language; they didn’t have any technical skill. They came with literally the clothes on their back,” she continued. “And within a generation, they have revitalized the economy of Lowell. And so it was a way for me to show rather than tell and, you know, get on my soapbox and let them tell their story. It was a wonderful week.”