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Padma Lakshmi on Gail Simmons’ Absence From Season 16 of ‘Top Chef’: ‘I Missed Her Terribly’

Padma Lakshmi Top Chef
Padma Lakshmi in a still from ‘Top Chef’s’ Season 16. Smallz & Raskind/Bravo


Padma Lakshmi is just excited as you are about the new season of Top Chef. The series, which returns for season 16 on Thursday, December 6, heads to Kentucky this year and features some small changes to the format. For example, this season will boast the earliest and first-ever three-team Restaurant Wars, a tweak Lakshmi welcomed.

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“We just wanted to do something different to see how it would affect the dynamic of Restaurant Wars, which is such a big pinnacle in the show for us. It’s a real line in the sand that if you make it past Restaurant Wars, you have a real good shot at winning,” the 48-year-old told Us Weekly, adding that it’s important for the show to find ways to keep things new and exciting. “We’ve been on air for many years, thankfully, and our fans are still enthusiastically in the show with us. I do think we’re always trying to top ourselves. We want the show to remain exciting and new and fresh. That’s a big reason why we move the show every season to different cities.”

Speaking of tweaks, Lakshmi — who recently partnered with Kellogg’s and will host a cereal-centric baking competition on December 12 that will crown the next “must-make” holiday dessert — would also like to see Top Chef head in a more vegetarian-friendly direction.

“I would really like to do more vegetarian or vegan recipes,” she explained. “I keep trying to propose, ‘Let’s do a whole vegetarian season’ and everybody looks at me like I’m crazy. Like, I’m on some other planet because this is America and we know that meat and potatoes are the heart of any table, but I persist about it.”

Padma Lakshmi on Gail Simmons’ Absence From Season 16 of 'Top Chef’: ‘I Missed Her Terribly’
Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons at The 7th Annual Blossom Ball on April 13, 2015 in New York City. Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Blossom Ball

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One change the host wasn’t exactly a fan of was judge Gail Simmons’ reduced role this season as a result of her pregnancy. “I don’t think that anybody could ask for a better castmate than I have in Gail,” Lakshmi told Us, noting that her longest friendship with anybody on any show has been her one with Simmons. “I think I really admire her, respect her, enjoy her company. I missed her terribly this season. Obviously, she also helps me deal with Tom [Colicchio] because he can be crazy sometimes. She’s such a basic foundation of the show that it was kind of a bummer not to have her, but honestly, it was a really good cause, right?”

Simmons, 42, was heavily pregnant when the show was in production and welcomed son Kole Jack Abrams with husband Jeremy Abrams on May 23. Her replacement was Food & Wine editor Nilou Motamed, who Lakshmi was happy to welcome aboard.

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“Nilou is so enthusiastic and excited,” Lakshmi explained, adding that she’s known Motamed for years. “It’s great to have a judge who is a great fan of the show and also very, very knowledgeable.”

Top Chef season 16 premieres on Bravo Thursday, December 6, at 9 p.m. ET.

With reporting by Marc Lupo

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