“The Restaurant Business In America Will Be Changed Forever”

Rebecca R. Ammons

Top Chef, executive producer and co-host Padma Lakshmi brought together a group of All-Star chefs for a fresh set of culinary challenges, taking the show to Italy for the first time, and paying tribute to the late Los Angeles food critic Jonathan Gold.” data-reactid=”28″>In the latest season of Top Chef, executive producer and co-host Padma Lakshmi brought together a group of All-Star chefs for a fresh set of culinary challenges, taking the show to Italy for the first time, and paying tribute to the late Los Angeles food critic Jonathan Gold.

Bravo reality series since 2002, bringing constant passion and curiosity to the kitchen, while using her platform for the good of others.” data-reactid=”29″>A nine-time Emmy nominee, Lakshmi has appeared on the Bravo reality series since 2002, bringing constant passion and curiosity to the kitchen, while using her platform for the good of others.

Taste the Nation, on Hulu, aiming to introduce viewers to immigrant communities through their food, while serving up a deeper understanding of the lives they live. “I felt like there was so much negativity coming out of Washington, D.C. about immigrants, and immigrants weren’t really allowed a big platform to speak for themselves in a thorough way,” the host says of the series’ genesis. “Usually, how we find out about another culture is through their foods. So, doing it through food allowed me a way in, and it is a very political show. It’s really a show about immigration and politics, disguised as a food show.”” data-reactid=”39″>This past June, Lakshmi launched a new series, Taste the Nation, on Hulu, aiming to introduce viewers to immigrant communities through their food, while serving up a deeper understanding of the lives they live. “I felt like there was so much negativity coming out of Washington, D.C. about immigrants, and immigrants weren’t really allowed a big platform to speak for themselves in a thorough way,” the host says of the series’ genesis. “Usually, how we find out about another culture is through their foods. So, doing it through food allowed me a way in, and it is a very political show. It’s really a show about immigration and politics, disguised as a food show.”

Well known for her philanthropic work, and her heartfelt commitment to marginalized groups, Lakshmi has for years advocated for the independent restaurant industry. Since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the U.S., the host has watched on in horror, as far too many of these establishments have been taken down. Unfortunately, in the long term, Lakshmi has an all-too-clear sense of what these events will mean. Simply put, she says, “The restaurant business in America will be changed forever.”

I also think our show makes it about the chefs. They’re the real stars of our show. I’m very proud of that, as far as reality programming goes, especially when you think of how many years ago we started. There was a time when a lot of reality television was really kind of lowest common denominator, trashy, people picking on each other, and we don’t engage in that. Our show is actually about the food, to the point of being egghead-y about it. We really get into the nitty-gritty. We go into the weeds on that stuff because we are genuinely interested also, and I think that shows.

You’ve seen them before, and now you get to see how they are a few years later, more developed in their careers, more mature with their palette, et cetera. So that, for me, was really exciting. There was a different dynamic in the room; just the energy was different.

We’re trying to share what we think is the right way with others, so that the industry as a whole can make sure that all the crew is safe, as well. I mean, I’m only as safe as my crew is, and I want them to be safe. They’re like family to me. We have to just take the attitude that we’re going to get through it together and find a way, because we all need to go back to work.

I think what people don’t realize, especially because we’ve elevated chefs to this kind of celebrity status, is that the margins in the restaurant business are extremely razor thin. So, there’s not a lot of room; there’s not a lot of reserves. I talked to one chef and he was saying, “We pay the invoices of 45 days ago with the money we make this week. So, if we’re not making money this week, we’re already behind a month and a half, from day one that we closed.” Unless they have rent relief and unless they can do enough takeout, which many restaurants can’t do, some old restaurants where people are used to getting takeout will survive, but those aren’t the bulk of the restaurants.

I do think that it’s such a large disaster that has befallen the restaurant business that we’ll have to build it up from the ground again. Hopefully, there will be better protections put in for its labor force, and more humane working hours, finding a way so that everybody has health insurance, and everybody gets family leave, and everybody shares the burden of running that restaurant. And it may mean we have to pay a little more. I think in America, Americans are bargain hunters. It’s kind of in our DNA. We always want to see “value for our money”, and I think we’re going to have to remember that there’s a pair of hands that made that food that has to pay his or her rent, that has a family, that has maybe an elderly person they’re caring for, just like we are. There has to be a little bit more empathy and a lot more equality in restaurants.

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