Padma Lakshmi is having an “otherworldly and amazing” morning, after pulling her latest set of three Emmy nominations for the culinary competition show Top Chef, which she’s long hosted and exec produced, and her newer Hulu series Taste the Nation, examining cuisine from coast to coast.
The nod for Bravo’s Top Chef — her 14th, overall — is particularly meaningful given her recently announced decision to depart the franchise of which she’s been a part for 19 seasons. “It feels really, really great to be able to leave my tenure right at Top Chef, knowing that I gave it my all and the last season, we got the nominations again,” Lakshmi shares. “I’m really happy, and I want to thank all of the people who worked so hard on that show that you never see. I’m over the moon because I’m leaving the show in a great shape.”
In addition to that series, which she considers the “gold standard” in its domain, Lakshmi has much to be proud of with Taste the Nation, which she developed from the ground up and calls
“the joy of my life.” She feels “a little vindicated,” she says with a laugh, given the many rejections she got in pitches before setting the show up at Hulu. “Listen, I’ve been on television for 20 years, and this is the first time someone has given me the chance to create my own show the way I saw fit,” explains Lakshmi. “That’s a privilege that many people don’t get to make, and especially many women don’t get to make in Hollywood, and it took me until this moment in my career when I finally got the chance. So, it’s not lost on me how rare this moment is.”
Lakshmi’s Top Chef noms came in the categories of Outstanding Reality Competition Program and Host for a Reality or Competition Program, with Taste the Nation being recognized in the category of Hosted Nonfiction Series or Special. She’s nominated in the latter category against the likes of David Letterman, Stanley Tucci, Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama, and while she idolizes each of these contenders, she can admit that she wants to win. “I don’t know how it’s possible to root against Michelle Obama,” she says. “But this is a case where I’m truly just psyched to be on the same list.”
Lakshmi explains, regarding her decision to leave Top Chef, that it was a “very difficult and complex” one coming down to the fact that “it was time.” She accomplished everything she hoped to, she said, while at Bravo, and now wants to devote as much time as possible to Taste the Nation, while creating space for her personal life.
Season 10 Top Chef winner Kristen Kish has been named as her replacement as host for Season 21, and Lakshmi feels the chef has lots to bring to the her new role. “I think she’ll bring herself to the show, which is different. We’ve been on TV for a long time, and so it’s like an old marriage. It’s good for there to be a little bit something new and exciting,” she says. “Kristen has what Tom [Colicchio] or Gail [Simmons] or I don’t have: She has the benefit of actually being a contestant, and not only competing well, but winning. And I think that perspective will help her as a host and she’ll grow into that role.”
In conversation with Deadline, Lakshmi also reflected briefly on the ongoing WGA Strike, as well as the looming prospect of one from SAG, expressing her hopes for a speedy resolution in both cases. “Even though [my] shows that are nominated for Emmys are not scripted, they are part of a larger television artistic landscape, and I don’t even know if we’re going to have a ceremony, to be honest, because we need writers to have the Emmys,” she opines. “I guess both guilds will advise us of what’s best to do.”
In looking to the future, Lakshmi says there’s further shows she’d like to take on under her Delicious Entertainment banner. She has a number in development — and “a Couple of those are actually scripted,” she reveals. “But I would also like to seed younger talent,” Lakshmi adds. “There are two or three women that I mentor, and I would love to find shows for them to be in because I can’t be always in front of the camera. I’m a single mom, and I want to enjoy my child, and I want to enjoy my life….and just do fewer things, better.”
Whether the Emmys ceremony winds up happening in September or is pushed amidst labor unrest, Lakshmi will look there to claim her first statuette, having never yet won. Other areas in which Top Chef will contend include editing, casting and directing.