Top Chef’s Tom & Padma (Heart) New York’s Restaurant Scene
The chefs are packing up their knives and heading into the kitchen as Top Chef's season 5 premieres tonight (Bravo, 10 p.m. ET). For the first time, New York will be the backdrop to all the cooking action … a prospect that makes the contestants and the judges excited. Both head judge Tom Colicchio and host Padma Lakshmi call New York home … and are actively involved in the city's food landscape as food industry professionals, diners and yes, even volunteers. With Thanksgiving approaching, Colicchio is involved in the Cascade Feeding America program, dedicated to providing needy children with meals for the holiday. "Just the act of feeding is . . . why I got into the business," he explains. But back to the business at hand--the food competition--Colicchio and Lakshmi spoke to PEOPLE about what to expect now that the show has arrived in the Big Apple … and why they love eating in New York. --Brian Orloff
Everybody says this season is much harder than past seasons. Are the chefs just more accomplished or are the challenges harder or both?Padma: We really try to make it interesting. We have really hardcore fans who are foodies themselves. We don't want to repeat ourselves, but we want to keep some of the traditional elements of the challenges. Tom: I think the caliber of the chefs has definitely improved overall. But I think also what happened is a lot of the contestants have seen three or four seasons of Top Chef, so they all have their own opinion of how it works. This season, it seemed they were always a little savvy about how to go about possibly winning. It's kind of funny because in the end we don’t care about all that stuff. All we care about is food. We're not privy to all the stuff that goes on behind the scenes.
You never judge based on 's behavior in the kitchen?Tom: Everyone assumes we see it and that's how we judge. We don't care. Last year, were like, 'I can't believe you would take that from Lisa.' Take what? I don't care what she does. She can sit there with her arms folded all she wants.
How do you plan to take advantage of New York's neighborhoods?Padma: New York is such an expansive culinary landscape that it's really hard to hit everything. I am sure there are going to be some who said, "I can't believe they didn't do this." That being said, I think we tried to do our best and highlight New York chefs and restaurants … but also street food and on budgets. Everything from high to low.
Talk about what you love about New York's culinary scene.Tom: What makes New York such a great food town is its diversity. It's such a demanding town that the chefs that are here . . . are on the top of their game. You can't take a break here. You constantly have to reinvent yourself and what you do. Its friendly competition and its diversity are what makes New York such an exciting food town.
What are your favorite New York food spots?Padma: I like Mamoun's Falafel in the West Village. A falafel is good because it's quick and you can hold it. I never have enough time. I totally grew up on street food. I love street food. I used to eat pretzels with mustard by Gracie Mansion because I grew up on the Upper East Side. What else? There's a Dosa guy down in Washington Square Park, and he has a line around the block. The Shake Shack. I used to go to the Water Club and have blinis and caviar.