Padma Lakshmi announced today that she was leaving the Bravo reality-competition juggernaut “Top Chef,” which she has hosted for 19 of the show’s 20 seasons, calling it a “difficult decision” made “after much soul-searching.”
“I am extremely proud to have been part of building such a successful show and of the impact it has had in the worlds of television and food,” Lakshmi, who also serves as an executive producer on the show, said in a statement posted on her social media accounts.
“Many of the cast and crew are like family to me, and I will miss working alongside them dearly,” she continued. “I feel it’s time to move on and need to make space for ‘Taste the Nation,’ my books and other creative pursuits. I am deeply thankful to all of you for so many years of love and support.”
Lakshmi did not immediately respond to a request for comment today. In an interview with The New York Times this year, Lakshmi discussed why she had decided to go on the show in the early days of reality television. “I liked how serious they were about the food,” she said. “It wasn’t about the cat fights and lowest common denominator.”
At the time, she said, she figured that if nothing else, “Top Chef” would at least expose her to an audience of potential book buyers who did not yet know her work. “We had no evidence that this would be a huge pop culture phenomenon,” she said.
Since 2006, the original “Top Chef” — there have been numerous international adaptations and spinoffs since — has traveled across the United States, filming seasons in Boston, New Orleans, Kentucky and Colorado, among other places. Each season brings together up-and-coming chefs who compete against one another in the hopes of winning cash prizes (and acclaim in the food world) and avoiding elimination — and the dreaded order to “please pack your knives and go.”
Next week, Bravo will air the finale of Season 20 of “Top Chef.” The season, titled “World All-Stars,” has been based in London, and brought together winners, finalists and memorable competitors from “Top Chef” adaptations from around the world.
In a statement to The New York Times, food writer Gail Simmons, Lakshmi’s co-star and fellow judge on “Top Chef” (along with restaurateur Tom Colicchio), said she is “so grateful for all the knowledge she shared and for the friendship that saw us through countless milestones both on and off camera.”
“I could not have asked for a better host and partner in the job,” Simmons went on. “I’ll always admire her work ethic and how she paved the way for so many women and people of color across the many industries she touches. She is an important person not just in my career, but in my personal life, and will remain so. There’s no denying her impact on our show and she will be missed in our future ‘Top Chef’ adventures.”
Colicchio did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Officials at NBCUniversal and Magical Elves, the production company for “Top Chef,” praised and thanked Lakshmi in statements that suggested they planned to continue the program. “We will miss her on set at the judges’ table and as an executive producer, but we will remain forever grateful for her unwavering dedication to connecting with our cheftestants and Bravo’s viewers alike,” Casey Kriley and Jo Sharon, co-CEOs of Magical Elves, said in a statement.
Lakshmi, 52, an Indian-born model, author and activist, has been praised for imbuing the reality show with grace and humor, becoming the undeniable face of the franchise.
Last month, Lakshmi’s other television show, “Taste the Nation,” aired its second season, on Hulu. On it, she travels the United States, exploring what it means to cook and eat in America.
Also last month, she was featured in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, posing in a gold-coin bikini. “This is me,” she wrote alongside a video of the photo shoot that she’d posted on Instagram. “I wouldn’t go back to my 20s if you paid me all the money in the world.”
Her first cookbook, “Easy Exotic,” was published in 1999. Since then, she has released several other books, including “Tangy, Tart, Hot & Sweet”; a memoir, “Love, Loss and What We Ate”; a reference guide called “The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs”; and a children’s book, “Tomatoes for Neela.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.