Filling Padma Lakshmi’s shoes is no easy job, but Kelly Choi is up to the challenge. Starting tonight Choi, the acclaimed food journalist and creator, producer, and host of NYC TV’s weekly restaurant show Eat Out NY steps in to host Bravo’s new Top Chef spinoff, Top Chef Masters. In a recent interview, the former model gave us the scoop on what to expect this season, how she managed to stay slim (hint: it’s in her genes), and the lessons she learned from watching Padma.
You guys have some pretty fun guest judges this season – Neil Patrick Harris, Zooey Deschanel – what was that experience like? Well, I never watched Doogie Howser, but it was fun to see Neil Patrick Harris and the challenge where it took place was really cool. I probably shouldn’t give it away. I was definitely starstruck. And Zooey is such a talented actress and she’s super cool. The challenge that she judged was also very unique and interesting, but I don’t want to say too much.
Did they have a pretty decent knowledge of food? Yeah, I think in general if they are willing to, and want to be a guest judge, that they’re foodies to begin with. Neil Patrick Harris was very well versed. His boyfriend is in culinary school now, I believe. They love going to restaurants, and they’ve got great palates. At the end of the day it’s about what tastes good and describing it, and they were very good at doing that. It was cool to see them in a different realm than what we’re used to seeing them as actors.
Like the Foo Fighters last season. Totally! I hope we get a kick ass rock band for the next season of Masters.
Do you know if there’ll be a next season? No, no. In my heart I’m sure that will happen, but it hasn’t been confirmed or anything like that.
Are you happy with the way the show turned out? I think the show freaking rocks. I love it. It was such an amazing experience. I was beyond excited and joyful. I was salivating from all that food.
How did you get involved? When I first saw Top Chef, I totally loved it. Out of the blue Bravo called me one day. I was beyond flattered and excited. It’s truly a dream come true job to me. Every day I was pinching myself.
Pinching yourself and eating your face off. Definitely [laughs]. Luckily I had quite a bit of exposure to that doing my show in New York, so I wasn’t too overwhelmed. I’m glad, because if I had gone straight in without that I probably would have been more intimidated by these chefs and their reputations, but I wasn’t. It’s what I do for my work day-to-day. They can be intimidating because they’re so talented, but as people, all of them are super down to earth.
How many belt notches did you have to loosen up after this show? I probably put on three or four pounds, but I’m kind of small framed as it is. It’s not that easy for me to put on weight. When you feel good and you’re eating well, and you’re respecting the craft, it’s different from just stuffing your face. It was so much deeper than just the kick ass food we had. Definitely when we’re tasting so many dishes it’s intense. Sometimes it seems like the next one is fattier than the first. I’m sure if I ate like that all the time I would totally put on. I was also having early days, and long days of shooting, so I was burning off a lot of that, too. I don’t own a scale, but my clothes still fit when I came home.
That’s lucky. Padma said when she’s shooting she needs to have a separate wardrobe. Yeah, I read that. She’s gorgeous and much more voluptuous than me, maybe that’s why. I envy her for that [laughs]. I’ve got a ton of nervous energy, so maybe that’s got something to do with it.
Did you talk to Padma before doing the show? Get any pointers? I didn’t get to talk to her beforehand. I saw her during taping once. She set the precedent for me. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every single episode of Top Chef from the beginning, so I was very familiar with her style and the way that she hosted. It was totally an honor to be in a similar situation to what she’s been doing. I definitely feel like Masters has it’s own personality and it’s own cast, though.
There was a picture that surfaced of you not too long ago in a bathing suit carrying a dead lamb through Times Square. What was happening there? Actually, it was a photo that I was going to put in my book that’s coming out soon. It’s called The Twenty Most Delicious Dishes in New York. There are twenty entrees that I really love, that I’ve had over the years, that I’m including in my book; shots of the chef and the dish. Within those I’m doing some edgy shots. It’s going to be like a glossy magazine. So, originally what I wanted to do with that shot that you saw was I was going to shoot it with a sweet suckling pig on my back. The day I went to go get that, the chef had been like ‘yeah we get suckling pigs every day, when you want one just call me and let me know.’ I called him that day and he said all they had was a baby lamb. So I was like ‘uhhh…OK, we can try that.’ And poor thing, in the shot it looks sort of brutal, so I don’t think I’m going to include it. I think that looked a little too edgy.
Top Chef Masters premieres tonight at 10 PM on Bravo.