Padma Lakshmi

Rocco DiSpirito takes on Top Chef and Anthony Bourdain.

on Aug 5, 2007


Padma graciously asked me to guest blog for her. So I said, "sure, why not?" I had such a wonderful time being a guest judge on Top Chef that I want to, foremost, thank the folks at Bravo, Magical Elves, Tom, Padma, Gail and Ted. I want to congratulate them on their well-deserved Emmy nomination.

I have been a fan of Tom's work since I trailed at his three star NYC restaurant Mondrian about 15 years ago. As far as I am concerned, any work with Tom is work to be proud of. I met Padma 7 years ago at a photo shoot; lovely then, lovely now. Ted and I are friends from the Bravo/NBC world and Gail is a new friend. I wasn't sure what to expect when I agreed to appear on Top Chef. It's a thinking person's reality show about cooking that transcends both reality television and cooking. Very clever.

The first thing that struck me was that these were serious cooks. With the exception of one or two people there were no scrubs in this kitchen. The second thing I noticed was that this is a tough competition. You may disagree, but the truth is that the "culinary bee" quick-fire challenge was no joke. Admittedly Howie got an easy one to start with, tomato paste, and when Joey mistook yucca for taro root I felt his pain.

It wasn't until l I worked with my friends at their Terra Chips factory in Williamsburg, Brooklyn long ago that I could tell the difference between the two by eye without hesitation. Yucca is always covered with wax; taro never is and has a hairy outer skin.

Sara gulped down the raspberry vinegar like it was cold beer on a hot day. Poor thing, she should have smelled it first. Dale actually got the real taro root, and called it water chestnuts. So what. He's got style and makes a mean pesto. CJ thought daikon radish sprouts was pepper cress, and truth be told, they are nearly identical in taste, poor guy. Hung quickly identified oats like he works at Quaker and Tre, didn't taste the rice wine vinegar in the mirin, which is what makes it mirin and not simple syrup.

I like Tre a lot; he can do little wrong in my book. He is the kind of chef chefs love to work with. He is talented, mature and powerful. When Casey took that big mouthful of fish paste I could feel the bile rising up in my own throat. Hung too quick for his own good, foolishly thought celery seed was anise seed because he didn't taste it, even though Padma kept telling him to. It turns out he came very close to needing the immunity. Luckily for Hung, Joey rightfully threw himself under the bus. I know Hung's attitude wasn't the greatest,and I believe he probably would have done a better job without Joey, but this isn't what this particular challenge was about.