As the host of Top Chef, a big part of Padma Lakshmi's job is making sure everything runs smoothly. And it's a duty she takes rather seriously. But don't get it twisted. Even with all that responsibility riding on her shoulders, she does not consider herself the star of the program. That honor goes to someone else: the Cheftestants.
"For me, people think, 'Oh, you’re the star of Top Chef.’ I’m not the star. The chefs are the star," she tells Variety, in a lenghty interview on unscripted series featuring The Voice host Carson Daly. "My job is to move traffic and get comments from Gail Simmons and Wylie Dufresne and all our other judges."
Another part of her job is also making sure everyone comes off the right way once the camera starts rolling.
"There have been a couple of times where we’ve had guest judges on — people who are leaders in our industry —but they just don’t translate on television," she says. "They’re not exuberant or articulate enough. I feel like it’s my job to bring that out in them, and when you don’t, you feel like maybe I didn’t do something I could have."
As host, she and the judges must translate the dishes into words, so that viewers can get a real feel for them because, of course, they can't taste it for themselves.
"Our show is different from other [competition] shows," she says. "When you watch The Voice or So You Think You Can Dance, the audience can hear how they’re singing. You can watch them dance. On our show you really have to rely on us to explain to you what this tastes like. It may look really great, but it could be really bitter or tart."
So why does she think the show stands out from the crowd?
"I think it’s really because [The Voice and Top Chef are] about the human spirit. Whether you’re cooking or singing or sewing or bungee jumping, it’s really about seeing these people strive to be the best at what they do against all odds, against whatever curve ball we’ve thrown at them," she says. "It’s like live-action sports. That’s why people watch them. Our shows are also specific in that you can watch them with your kids. That’s something I’m more sensitive to now as a mother. … The best compliment I ever get is being stopped on the street by a 13-year-old saying that they had a quick-fire competition at her sleepover last night."