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Former Top Chef Host Padma Lakshmi Reveals Multiple Reasons Why She Exited Series After 19 Seasons

 Padma Lakshmi on Top Chef.
Padma Lakshmi on Top Chef.

Top Chef Season 21 is underway, and things are looking a little different this time around. The Bravo cooking competition has updated some of its rules for the Wisconsin-set season, but the biggest change is actually the one behind the judges’ table. Kristen Kish has replaced Padma Lakshmi as host, with Lakshmi announcing that she was leaving after 19 seasons of telling contestants to pack their knives and go. At the time she expressed the need to focus on her other creative pursuits, and now she’s opened up about multiple other reasons for her exit.

Top Chef is one of those shows that make you hungry just thinking about them, so just imagine what it’s like for Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons and company, who actually get to smell, touch and taste all of the decadent creations from the best chefs in the country (and even the world). All of that food definitely played a part in Padma Lakshmi’s decision to walk away, she told Harper's Bazaar, admitting:

It was really taking a toll on me physically to digest that much food in a day.

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Although that at first sounds like a problem I’d like to have, Padma Lakshmi really put into perspective just how much the judges have to eat, saying that each season she would gain 10 to 15 pounds in a six-week period. That’s not hard to believe, when you think about how much food the contestants prepare. Even if the judges are only taking one bite of each dish, it adds up really quickly, and they have to at least ingest enough to be able to judge fairly.

Age has also changed the way her body handles all that food, she said. The Sports Illustrated swimsuit model was 35 when she started on Season 2 of Top Chef in 2006, and now at age 53, her metabolism and perimenopause have made it harder to maintain the body she wants, and she said:

I live in the fucking gym.

The food may be one of the things she won’t miss about hosting Top Chef, but her reasons go just beyond the physical. Padma Lakshmi lamented that she’s spent every birthday in recent memory on set filming, and the schedule also keeps her away from her 14-year-old daughter Krishna. Honestly, she said, she could also do without the constant scrutiny from tabloids and speculation about who Krishna’s father is, which Lakshmi has chosen not to disclose.

It’s not that women can’t have it all, the cookbook author said, but choices do have to be made. She said:

You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once. I didn’t have a lot of time for a social life. When was I going to find somebody I wanted to hang out with?

While Top Chef fans certainly miss Padma Lakshmi’s familiar face, hopefully stepping away from the show allows her to do all of these things that she couldn’t before. And who knows? Maybe she’ll turn up as a guest judge one of these days. For now, you can see Kristen Kish leading the charge, with new episodes of Top Chef airing at 9 p.m. ET Wednesdays on Bravo. Be sure to check out our 2024 TV schedule to see all of the upcoming premieres.