Padma Lakshmi On Her Favorite NYC Chefs and Charlize Theron's Tough Top Chef Challenge

In the November issue of PAPER (on stands now), Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi chats with our Mickey Boardman about the show's new season in San Antonio (it was "hot as hell"), her daughter and playing pranks on the staff. Here, we have a few more interesting little tidbits from the interview, in which she discusses her favorite chefs in New York and a particularly tough challenge on Top Chef with guest judge Charlize Theron.

On her favorite chefs in New York City:

I love what Michael White is doing at Marea. I think Marea, where San Domenico used to be, has always been a pretty room, but it has never been groovy. Even though it's very kind of uptown and stuffy, the food is so exquisite and just yummy.

I really like Wylie Dufresne. I don't think I got more than a C+ in chemistry, so that molecular stuff is really kind of not my bag. As a spectator and audience for it, though, I really admire what he does. I think it has great whimsy and is wonderful...It's just, literary.

And I also really love what René Redzepi is doing at Noma. I went there to eat and it was one of the highlights of my last five years. If you look at the menu, you can tell he's very affected by what Michel Bras did in the '80s. Not that I was going to those fancy restaurants in the '80s, I was in high school and going to Carl's Jr. I think the food at Noma is like prose on a plate. It's basically a boy and his love affair with the forest he grew up in. The food really tastes like this love story he had written to the woods of Scandinavia. Food is great when it tells a story and it takes you on a journey.

On the toughest elimination challenge of this season's San Antonio-based
Top Chef:
The kind of food that makes you feel not only soul but feel emotion is also what you can, at times, fee illustrated through the challenges on Top Chef. That's kind of the lovely brilliance of what my producers do -- they try really hard season after season to make it new and fresh and exciting and they do a really good job. This season, we have Charlize Theron as a judge. She has a new movie and the chefs are asked to do this dinner for her. I don't want to tell you too much, but I was really proud of the contestants at that particular dinner. I was just grinning with pride because the best of each of them got pulled out and you really saw their hearts and their own personal histories and their creativity and their love of food on their plates. Their food told a story. It was so hard because at the end of it, we still had to send someone home. At that point, it was about being nit-picky because everything was so good. It was, 'OK, everything [we're eating now] is fantastic. This is just an embarrassment of riches.'

Photo credit: Douglas Adesko

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