“I don’t know if I’ll ever see this again in my life,” a humbled Padma Lakshmi told TheWrap after earning Emmy nods for her two shows: Bravo’s “Top Chef” and Hulu’s “Taste the Nation.” “I’m knocking on wood right now because I feel so elated and fortunate.”
Lakshmi is nominated for Outstanding Host For A Reality Or Competition Program for “Top Chef” and Outstanding Hosted Nonfiction Series for “Taste the Nation.” Lakshmi believes her work on “Taste the Nation” helped her earn a nomination for “Top Chef,” which she has hosted for 17 seasons before announcing her exit in June.
“I think that the last two years, I’ve gotten the host nomination because of my work on ‘Taste the Nation,’ even though the category is for ‘Top Chef.’ I think it was because the Academy and its members saw me in another hosting role that it made them look at my work on ‘Top Chef’ again,” she explained.
The two shows are very different — as are Lakshmi’s roles on them. On “Top Chef,” she is a host and judge for some of the finest professionals in the industry; on “Taste the Nation,” she visits immigrant communities across America and explores the food stories of everyday cooks.
“So much of food television, including, my beloved show ‘Top Chef,’ is either analytical, like we do on judge’s table, or it’s demonstrational, like all the stand-and-stir food shows that you see on many networks. Many also have the competition element. But food is so interwoven into every aspect of our lives that it takes on a highly emotional value. Whether you’re a professional in the food world or an accountant or whatever, food is still very central in your life. And so it occupies this very deep emotional and cultural place,” she explained.
“There are a lot of travel food shows out there, mine is not the only one. Most of them are, again, analyzing the food, and are very lifestyle,” she continued. “And I really wanted to go deeper on a cultural human level, because I could sense how people continue to have such a fascination with ‘Top Chef.’ There’s so much to get through because of how many contestants we have and all the challenges and the getting to taste everything that there’s not much room to really explore that emotionality we do with the contestants. There’s so much joy and pathos that comes from that Olympic-level competition. It’s why we watch the Olympics every four years. But I wanted to take the time and slow down and really look at the cultural implications of food and why and how people are so connected to food as a source of their identity.”
As a South Asian immigrant herself, Lakshmi realized she wanted to use her platform to educate about immigrant communities in the United States, including Nigerians thriving in Houston, Texas or Cambodians in Lowell, Massachusettes.
“I think as an artist and as a storyteller, it is important to seek out new stories. That’s why I created ‘Taste the Nation.’ I’m very thankful for my whole time, which was significant, on ‘Top Chef,’ but I think I have done whatever I’ve set out to do there. I look forward to watching the show and its new evolution with Kristen [Kish]. But I did want to challenge myself, to push myself and my creativity into new places. And I think that’s important for my audience, as well. I also want to reflect the culture as it is today. And I think that immigration is an issue that’s really important, not only to our country, politically, and food-wise, but also for the environment, and agriculturally.”
Lakshmi is equally proud of her final season on “Top Chef,” a “World All-Stars” edition that was filmed entirely in London and Paris — a series first.
“I was very, very glad we went internationally on ‘Top Chef’ because I think it was important to challenge us as a show, a crew, but also to challenge the notion of what it means to be the best food competition show. Can we really say that it’s world-dominating? Well, it is, but let’s test that within the confines of the competition. It was a huge task for us to undertake. And I am really glad that we pushed ourselves.”
Lakshmi has pushed herself on “Taste the Nation,” which she calls “a much smaller show” compared to “Top Chef.” She’s not only the creator and host/executive producer, she also has her hand in every aspect of production.
“On ‘Taste the Nation,’ I sometimes have to get up at like 5:30 am. I will often get up before my alarm because I’ll be my mind is racing — I’ll want to add another question that I want to ask or see if we can do we can squeeze in another little recipe to demonstrate for the viewers because the culture is so interesting. And I’m always taking notes. I’m giving notes on five different edits of each episode, I attend every color-correcting session and post-production, I attend every sound mixing session. I write my own voiceover. I speak very closely with all of my field producers constantly. And so even when I’m not out in the field shooting, I’m back home in New York, prepping for the next episode, and also wrapping the previous one and giving notes of what happened in the field to my editors.”
Despite the emotional investment put into both shows, Lakshmi couldn’t be more grateful.
“One of my greatest blessings has been the ability to make a living with what I naturally love doing,” she reflected. “Whether that’s being a host on ‘Top Chef’ and getting to meet all these wonderful chefs as both competitors and judges and talk shop all day, to traveling the country and embedding myself for a week in each of these communities, I would never ever get to know the country the way I have if it wasn’t for my television career.”
“Top Chef” is streaming on Peacock and “Taste the Nation” is streaming on Hulu.