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Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio Reveal the Wildest Moments on the Set of Top Chef

The Top Chef judges look back on some of the series’ most unforgettable moments.

By Jocelyn Vena

Season 18 of Bravo's Top Chef is almost here. Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, and Gail Simmons, as well as a rotating judging and dining panel featuring Top Chef all-star winners, finalists, and favorites, will all be in Portland, Oregon for the new season, which premieres on April 1 at 8/7c (trailer below).

While fans will have to wait and see what kinds of culinary treats the new crop of cheftestants cook up and how heated things will become in the kitchen this time around, Tom and Padma are opening up about some of Top Chef’s more memorable, wild, and unforgettable moments from seasons past.

”It’s hard to say. There’s so many great moments, and really touching moments, and moments of when you connect with someone and when their food connects with you, and moments when you see the chefs kind of struggling, and their competitors actually pick them up and get them through it. Those are always great moments. But singling specifically, it’s hard to say right now. But those are the moments that I love,” Tom told Bravo Insider in an exclusive interview. “The judges are judging, and no one’s telling us what decision to make. The chefs are working their asses off and cooking their hearts out. There’s just certain moments where things just connect. You’ll get this aha moment. That kind of brings it for me; that’s why I’m there because you want to share in that.”

Preview
Your First Look at Top Chef Portland!
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Padma added to Bravo Insider that being able to experience world cuisine and global cultures remains an influence on her as a host and judge on the series, as well as a cook. “My cooking has been influenced by the places we’ve traveled to and the things that we’ve been exposed to. For example, we filmed in Mexico for two of our finales [Season 12 and Season 14], and that’s been wonderful. And so, being able to go to the open air market in Merida in the Yucatan or hunting down other things in Macau, those things inform my food knowledge much more because I’m not working in a restaurant, and I really don’t have any interest in doing so [laughs].”

So, what other memories do Tom and Padma have of their years on the show? Ahead of the new season of Top Chef, Bravo Insider invites you to take a trip down memory lane with Padma and Tom as they recall some of the show’s wildest moments on set.

Season 8

Biggest Emergencies: Fire!
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Tom recalls: “A kitchen catching on fire in the Bahamas was pretty, pretty wild [laughs]. Thinking back, that’s pretty crazy.”
 

Season 12

Show Highlight
And The Winner of 'Top Chef' Boston Is. . .
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Tom recalls: “I remember like a moment in the [Season 12] finale [with] Mei Lin and Gregory [Gourdet]. It was their finale where they were so young and cooking at such a level. And I think the comment — and it was like, this is like watching Bruce Springsteen at the Stone Pony. You see it, and it’s raw and there’s talent. You have no idea that this guy’s gonna turn into the Bruce Springsteen of today. That, to me, was like, wow, this is just amazing to watch these young, talented chefs just putting together food that is just perfect on so many levels. Those are great moments because it’s about talent at that point. It’s about raw talent.”
 

Season 14

Padma recalls: "When we were in Charleston, there was a hurricane and we had to, at the last minute, move everything from a dock we were gonna film on to inside. We had all of these guests coming, and we didn’t know if we could fit them into the Top Chef kitchen. That was a wild experience because pieces of our set were just flying in the wind outside. And, again, our crew did such a good job of getting everything together, really like pivoting quickly. And I think the people who were guests on the show really, really lucked out because they got a chance to be in the Top Chef kitchen when they were only going to just come to a challenge. So that was fun."
 

Season 17

Show Highlight
The Top Chef Season 17 Winner Is...
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Tom recalls: "The food’s always good. We had some exceptional food, but Melissa [King] was so good, and part of that is because she found a different confidence after being on the show the first time [Season 12]. She was great in her first season. But this [last] season, especially when we were in Italy, knowing that [she was probably like] 'I’m gonna do what I do, I’m gonna bring some of this Italian flavor and flair and product into what I do. But I’m not changing who I am.' And it worked [for her]. I tell you, we had to hold back our effusiveness, if that’s a word, because you couldn’t give it away. I got to say it was really, really exciting. Her food was so good. The other thing that was just amazing, because we’re in Italy, we had a lot of European chefs who are really accomplished [with Michelin stars]. It was a great table. They were blown away. They were like, ‘I had no idea’ [laughs]… It was a great season for so many reasons. It was fun to be there for that ride."

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