The Top Chef host and judge recently revealed on Last Call with Carson Daly that she always keeps her distance from the Cheftestants and never gets too buddy-buddy with them. "We have a very strict policy on set where I don't fraternize with the contestants," she said during the Last Call Spotlight in the Thursday, March 15 episode. "Sometimes, invariably at the beginning of the season, a chef will come over between lighting changes and just make small talk with me. And one of my producers will diplomatically and discreetly say to them, 'Please step away from the judge.'"
It's not that Padma wants to be standoffish with the Cheftestants; she just has to be in order to remain objective while evaluating their dishes. "I need to judge them strictly on the plate of food that they serve me," Padma explained. "We pick the best dish of the night. That's it. And sometimes it makes me sad because maybe I want the other person to go home because this person's a pain in the ass. Too bad. I have to keep him or her on."
Sometimes, Padma's interactions with Cheftestants can even turn a bit tense, like when she called Fatima Ali out for not cooking her native Pakistani food with enough flavor this season of Top Chef. "I want these chefs to leave Top Chef feeling like they're better than when they came in. In Fatima's case, our EP [executive producer] was like, 'Wow, you really laid into her.' I said, 'Did I?'" Padma recalled. "I think anyone who cares about their work would want honest feedback. I know I do. Obviously, I have spent many hours with her after the show's finished, and she was glad I laid into her. She was glad I put it in perspective."
Padma has grown closer to Fatima since this season of Top Chef ended. She has been by Fatima's side during her battle against Ewing's sarcoma, a type of bone and soft tissue cancer, which she was diagnosed with last fall. "This was one of our best contestants. She was so fun," Padma shared about Fatima during an appearance on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen in February. "You know, I didn't see all of her commentary until now, and she's so witty and so many people have come up to me saying what a great spirit she has and how funny she is with her commentary."
Listen up, future Cheftestants! Stay away from this cooking technique Padma says is the most overrated in the video, below.