Bravo’s Top Chef remarkably kicked off its 13th season with a two-night premiere last night, introducing yet another lineup of skilled chefs vying for the show’s eponymous mantle. The popular reality competition has launched numerous careers and spawned multiple international adaptations. Judges Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons joined us to discuss the show’s long-lasting recipe for success (see what we did there?), and how it’s nurtured its “cheftestants” for 13 seasons.
DIRECTV: Wow, 13 seasons of Top Chef! How does it feel to be a part of something with such staying power?
Padma: I think any time you have a show that lasts more than ten years on television it is an achievement. I can count on one hand the shows that have done that and so I can speak for Gail too [laughs]. We’re very proud of the show. We’re very lucky. We have a big team that does an amazing job, clearly.
Is there anything unique in store for us in Season 13?
Gail: There’s a lot that’s different. We’re taking Top Chef on the road this season. We go to five different cities across California. We start in LA, then go to Palm Springs, Santa Barbara, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland, and so that really keeps the chefs moving, thinking, on their toes, and also allows us to use each city as a totally different culinary backdrop. It’s really exciting because that’s where some of the most beautiful food in America comes from.
Padma: Oh, and I married 25 couples.
Gail: As an ordained member of the clergy!
Padma: Yes, I’m a woman of the cloth now. What cloth I’m not sure, but I’m cut from it!
You spoke about being proud of the show and what it’s accomplished. Do you have a sense of pride in knowing that this program can actually give careers a boost; that it carries real significance for those who compete?
Padma: No other show on television including, any of the musical programs (like The Voice, American Idol), can boast as many success stories for their alumni as we can. We know several chefs, some of them who weren’t even able to win that season, who have empires now—and deservedly so. Cookbooks, various restaurants, awards…the whole nine yards.
Gail: It’s amazing, there are literally hundreds of restaurants in America open today from contestants that were on our show—and that’s not to say they wouldn’t be doing well if they hadn’t been on the show—but I think the show shines a spotlight on them in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise. With that kind of publicity comes people coming to eat, actively seeking them out. Their restaurants become destinations. The press notice them, investors noticing them. I like to think that we give them the opportunity, and that goes to show you what kind of talent is on this program.
What kind of advice would you give aspiring culinary professionals?
Padma: Just work the line. Go to a restaurant you love and donate your time, beg them for a job. There’s no other way to do it but to do it.
Gail: Get your hands dirty, literally, more than anything else.
Set your DVR for the second night of the season premiere of Top Chef, tonight at 10/9c on Bravo, channel 237.