Padma Lakshmi has a new era on the horizon.
The longtime "Top Chef" host is gearing up for the release of her upcoming new Hulu show, which she revealed in a new interview with AOL's Gibson Johns is called "Taste the Nation."
"It was my idea, I created the show, I’m executive producing it, I’m writing it," Lashmi said of the program. "[But] this show isn’t about me: It’s about using other people’s stories to prove my point about American culture and American food. It’s using food as a vehicle to talk about larger topics that are difficult to talk about in our society, but I think are worthwhile."
While she is heading in a new direction with "Taste the Nation," she isn't leaving behind the show that made her a household name, explaining to AOL that she continually reminds herself that finding a show with such longterm success is a rarity, and she shouldn't abandon such an opportunity.
"The first thing that keeps me there is to understand how lucky I am to have a long-running show, and that to step away from that would be difficult for me, because it’s not just me Tom [Colicchio] and Gail [Simmons], but 150 people behind the scenes that really work very hard," she said. "It’s something that I take great proprietorship in."
Check out our full interview with Padma Lakshmi below, where we chat about her recent collaboration on the Stacy's Rise Project to fund female entrepreneurs in the food space, the mission statement of her upcoming Hulu show, "Taste the Nation," and why she thinks "Top Chef" has produced the most successful network of alums in reality television history.
Today you helped announce the winner of Stacy's Rise Project, which awarded a total of $200,000 to five female entrepreneurs in the food space. It's so important for big companies like Stacy's to help empower women and minorities in this way.
I thought it was exactly the kind of support in the food space needed, whether they were male or female. Stacy’s is such a good example of what a successful story in the food space looks like for women. For me, as someone in the food world, it always upset me that most professional chefs or people professionally in the food space are men and yet most of the actual cooking done in the world is done by women. There seems like a real disconnect, so I loved that Stacy’s wanted to do this and pay it forward, use everything that they had learned with the Stacy’s brand and help mentor these young women. Yes, it’s great to get the grant, because when you start a small business you have to make these really hard decisions, and they all affect your bottom line. But as valuable, if not more valuable than a grant, is helping you figure out how to spend that money wisely. A lot of these women came up with a great idea, but what they needed was a really thorough hand-holding the ability to learn a methodology about how to figure out what to do [with that money] and apply that business acumen to future decisions.
All five of the winners have some sort of socially-conscious aspect of their business, which feels like almost a prerequisite for starting a business these days, especially in the food world. Talk to me about the importance of that.
Listen, it is one way of standing out, honestly. Let’s face it, there are a lot of milk brands and granola brands and tea companies, but it’s more about what these women want to do with their product. It’s not only just about giving back, but also about making enough money to be able to give back a large sum. It’s creating job, it’s empowering other females, it’s helping to build a network within each other to have someone to call for advice. Most entrepreneurs are so siloed because they’re working from day to night. Something like this is really powerful. We get a lot of offers to represent brands, but this really touched me and it was something that I would kill for if I were in their shoes.
Part of this is also Stacy's simply taking a chance on a women to help her break into the space. Someone’s taking a chance on you, too, as you're getting your own show with Hulu. Because I'm sure it wasn't a walk in the park getting the show greenlit, what was the feeling like when you finally got the go-ahead?
I had really given up and thought no one was going to do this, but I knew it was a program I would want to watch and when Hulu said yes I was over the moon. They’ve been super supportive. They’ve pretty much left me alone creatively, but also when they have made their opinions known they’ve been very useful. The feedback they’ve given is really helpful. It feels great to finally do your own material. “Top Chef” is such a big, collaborative circus and it’s a very formatted show. Right now it has a big viewership and it’s a well-oiled machine, but this is starting from scratch. It was my idea, I created the show, I’m executive producing it, I’m writing it. We had field producers who worked really hard to do the casting, because this show isn’t about me: It’s about using other people’s stories to prove my point about American culture and American food. It’s using food as a vehicle to talk about larger topics that are difficult to talk about in our society, but I think are worthwhile.
What would you say is the show's mission statement?
The mission statement is to show what the country really looks like and how we eat. It’s called “Taste the Nation,” so that tells you everything you need to know. We like to say things like, “It’s as American as apple pie.” Not one ingredient in apple pie is indigenous to North America, including the apples. Everything is brought here. That’s what makes our country unique, is that we’re able to take the best of all of these immigrant influences that have come and contributed to our society and distill them into one American culture, which is really a microcosm for the best and the worst of the world.
It also allows me to get on my soapbox in a less overt way, as I do with the ACLU, but people are used to me speaking the language of food, so it’s a good way for me to show what I think about larger ideas.
As you embark on other projects and shows, what keeps you going on "Top Chef" after all these years?
The first thing that keeps me there is to understand how lucky I am to have a long-running show, and that to step away from that would be difficult for me because it’s not just me Tom [Colicchio] and Gail [Simmons], but 150 people behind the scenes that really work very hard. It’s something that I take great proprietorship in, and I have a great sense of pride in "Top Chef" and all that we’ve been able to achieve. What helps keep it fresh is that we change locations every season and every season the contestants are new. The show is really about them. We’re constant, of course, and you look to us to interpret how they’re eating. If you look at the history of alums that have done well, no other reality show -- not even "American Idol" -- has produced more stars, more legitimate people who now have empires.
Learn more about the Stacy's Rise Project here.