'Top Chef: Seattle's' Padma Lakshmi: 'There's always a couple of odd ducks in the beginning'
"I didn't know very much about Seattle, but I loved how serious everyone was about the food," says host Padma Lakshmi, who also judges the competition along with Tom Colicchio, Hugh Acheson, Emeril Lagasse, Gail Simmons and newcomer Wolfgang Puck. "It's a fantastic food town. Of course, we all know about the amazing seafood: the salmon, the crab, the oysters. By the way, I was not a big oyster eater, but I have become one because of my time in Seattle."
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The first episode, however, opens in Los Angeles, where 21 aspiring contestants gather hoping to win a spot among the finalists in Seattle. In a new twist, Colicchio, Acheson, Lagasse and Puck cull the herd by taking the chefs into their restaurant kitchens and evaluating how well they handle fundamental tasks such as cooking a perfect omelet or an enticing bowl of soup.
"There's always a couple of odd ducks in the beginning," Lakshmi says of the contenders. "After all, it's a TV show, and that makes it more interesting. But after a couple of episodes in, you'll quickly see that the ones left are pretty serious about what they do and passionate about their work and are there for the right reasons and are incredibly compelling to watch. I think the women are really strong and have as much attitude as the men. That's always a challenge for us on this show."
Puck makes a smooth addition, she adds.
"He's hysterical, and he's so learned and such an old master," Lakshmi tells Zap2it. "It's also wonderful for the contestants, because he's a god. There are chefs who have great restaurants and chefs who write great cookbooks and chefs who produce great packaged food and are great caterers and mentored a lot of other famous chefs ... but Wolfgang has achieved everything I just said. And he's an immigrant. And he has a very funny accent. The man has more energy than my 2-year-old."