Top Chef World All Stars, the Bravo competition show’s 20th season, is now behind us, and so is Padma Lakshmi’s tenure as host, since the last episode was her last.
Since the episode aired, both interviews and social media posts have offered some insight into five questions I had after watching—most about Padma’s tenure and decision to leave, but also about the show’s finale itself:
- Did Sara’s undercooked liver sink her?
- Did Padma know she was leaving during filming?
- Why did Padma leave, exactly?
- Who does Padma think should replace her as Top Chef host?
- What will Padma do next?
Read on for answers, including some infuriating details Padma shares about how she was directed to host at the start of her time on Top Chef.
Did Sara’s undercooked liver sink her?
Yes. Incredibly, Sara Bradley would have been the winner of Top Chef World All Stars if her lamb had been cooked properly. At least, that’s according to the show’s head judge, Tom Colicchio.
Asked “if Sara’s liver was edible would she have been the winner? That’s what the editing had me believing,” Tom Colicchio tweeted: “Correct”.
When someone expressed skepticism at that, considering Buddha’s performance during the season, Tom reminded everyone that the judges “don’t take past performance into account.”
Tom also pointed out that Sara’s liver wasn’t just rare: “Rare would have been ok, raw not so much.”
In an Instagram live, Sara said Tom’s tweet “gave me some validation.” Sara also captioned the video: “F*CKNG LIVER.”
Asked by Variety about whether he thought Sara’s live was the deciding factor, Buddha said, “I’m not going to lie, it would have been tight if she’d have executed it—who knows what result would have happened. But that’s the way that the show goes. You could dwell on, could have, should have, whatever.”
By the way, in an interview with Parade’s Mike Bloom, Buddha talked about his extensive preparation for London, and about the criticism that his food was soulless, not unlike Bryan Voltaggio, who Buddha notes got the same criticism.
“I think that a lot of the comments between soul and creativity, that’s a myth and a hoax,” he said. “Like I said, I put taste above anything else, and then creativity and then presentation. If it doesn’t taste good, it’s not going to be on there. I feel like ever since Bryan Voltaggio had his finale and everyone said it ‘lacks soul’ and stuff like that, I feel like there’s a division between comfort food and what it looks like and what it should look like compared to something that looks too pretty.”
Did Padma know she was leaving during filming?
Top Chef season 20 was filmed in fall 2022, Padma announced her decision to leave in June 2023.
In the season’s final moments, which were taped in Paris in October, Tom and then Padma toasted the crew at the end of the 20th season as the show broke the fourth wall and showed everyone gathering.
In her toast, Padma said, “A lot of us grew up on this show—it’s been a long ride. Quite an accomplishment. Thank you very much.”
While she didn’t say Thanks for 19 seasons, I’m out!, it sounded like she may have been acknowledging her own departure.
But Padma said that, in that moment and during the season, she had not yet made the decision.
Asked by the Los Angeles Times if she knew it was her final season, Padma said, “No. But I thought it could be.”
Why did Padma leave, exactly?
Padma admits, “I love both shows for very different reasons, and I’m very, very lucky to have two hit shows on TV at the same time.”
Last year, filming both Taste the Nation and Top Chef season 20, Padma said “I was on the road from February to October. And I was exhausted. I just want to enjoy my life a little bit.”
Part of that exhaustion is one of the job requirements: “I also don’t want to eat like I do on Top Chef anymore. I’m the only one on the show that eats every single thing. I did it for a long time, and I don’t think that is sustainable for me.”
Who does Padma think should replace her as Top Chef host?
Padma was asked by the L.A. Times’ Ashley Lee who she thought should replace her from inside Top Chef.
While Padma was initially reluctant to answer (“I don’t want to piss anyone off”), she did offer three terrific ideas:
- Gregory Gourdet or Kwame Onwuachi, because “they are the hottest chefs in the world right now, and we don’t see enough Black men in roles at the forefront of the professional food world, even though Black men and women have been making most of the food in this country historically”
- Carla Hall, who “would be fantastic”
- Gail Simmons: “she certainly knows how to handle all the complexities,” Padma said, and then followed it with this idea: “Maybe the solution is to have Gail take my chair, and then you could have a permanent position that only alumni get to take.”
I love both ideas, but especially like the idea of making room for some of Top Chef’s alumni, who proved to be an excellent addition to the show.
Padma does offer advice to the next host, including this surprising detail: “it took me 10 seasons just to get a rubber mat under my feet, so make sure they give you that rubber mat.”
I noticed the appearance of those anti-fatigue mats during Portland (see the photo above), and while I knew they’d provide comfort—I have one in my kitchen!—I assumed they appeared then as a clearer way of marking physical distancing during the pandemic.
What will Padma do next?
Padma told the Los Angeles Times that Hulu’s Taste the Nation “was born out of all of my frustrations, hopes, loyalties, advocacies and political point of view.”
One of those frustrations: Top Chef itself. In early seasons, Padma said she was directed by the production and/or Bravo to be serious, which is a horrible move, especially considering how much better a host Padma was when she dropped that seriousness.
In the early seasons of Top Chef, they wanted me to be very closed off and serious, and it pissed me off that people would say, “You’re so nice in person!” They don’t say that anymore, but Top Chef is so formatted, and because I’m also the host of the show, it’s my job to facilitate other people’s opinions, especially those of the guest judges and personalities, often at the expense of sharing my own.
That’s something she wanted to change on her Hulu show:
I wanted to be my full self on Taste the Nation. I’m tired and sick of seeing men get to be callous and smart and funny and dirty and sexy and mean, and all of us women have to sit there, look pretty and be likable. And I hate to start sentences like this, but in my business, as a brown woman in Hollywood, I know how rare it is to get to make a show out loud from the ground up, to have the reins of the show creatively, and this is the first time in my life I’ve ever gotten this privilege. It’s a miracle to make a show that comes out exactly how you hoped.
Padma doesn’t want Taste the Nation to fall into a rut (“I don’t want every episode to just be, ‘Go to this community, meet everyone and talk about their food, and then rinse and repeat.’ That’s good for four or five seasons max.”), and said that she thinks it has a lot of ways of changing and growing.
Padma said, “I want to be doing this show for as long as I did Top Chef. It’s Taste the Nation but it could be any nation; I want to go international, like to Berlin, where there’s a huge Turkish immigrant community. There’s more migration now than any other time in our history, and I want to be at the forefront of that.”