By JOHN LEGASPI

The Covid-19 disease was reported to have originated from the market of Wuhan, China due to the mishandling of exotic animals for eating. Truly, kitchen staff have the great responsibility of preparing food that’s flavorful, safe, and beneficial to the body and mind.

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Padma Lakshmi

Top Chef host, Padma Lakshmi, couldn’t agree more. Having been part of the culinary show for 13 years, she’s knowledgeable when it comes to food handling and innovating flavors. She has honed a higher sensibility when it comes to cooking and dining.

Now she is back for the show’s 17th season that brings together 15 chefs: 10 finalists and five front runners, chasing the one thing that eluded them all—the coveted title of “Top Chef.”

The 49-year-old actress and author chats with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle as she looks back on her Top Chef experience and shares her thoughts on how to combat Covid-19 through good and nutritious meals.

What’s the best part of being in Top Chef?

The best part, for personal reasons, is coming together. When you do a show for 13 years now like I have, it is nice to see old friends. These are the people I have literally grown up with. We’ve seen marriage, babies, divorce, and everything. We’re very close. So whenever we come together, it’s like having a family reunion. I’ve had the privilege of working with them for so many years.

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Padma with fellow judge Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons

From a professional point-of-view, it’s been really wonderful because I get to meet so many young chefs. I’m the kind of person who likes to eat but doesn’t like to go outside a lot. This is my way of getting to know what’s going on, what’s new in the food scene. I just love the competition. I just love watching these chefs try to be the best in what they do. No matter what people are doing, be it cooking, singing, or sewing, it’s always exciting to see people go after what they want with all their might, with all their heart and soul.

What can people expect from the latest all-stars season?

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Top Chef season 17 contestants

I think this season is going to be pretty exciting and very juicy because people already know these contestants, and, with hope, these are the chefs they were rooting for in the past seasons. All the contestants this year are either front runners or finalists. You’re going to witness stiff and tough competition from people who know what they’re doing, who have restaurants and businesses of their own, and who have been through the competition.

What makes a “Top Chef?”

I think on the show, time management is the most fundamental skill to master. Understanding that each second matters. Even though you know the recipe really well, if you don’t have the equipment, the ingredient, and especially the time to execute that, you shouldn’t go anywhere near that dish.

People think they want to translate what they do in their own kitchen when they’re cooking in the show, but this is not the regular kitchen or restaurant they work in. Here, you have to do everything for yourself. There is no help. Most of these people are executive chefs in their own kitchen and they have an army of people doing all sorts of things. Sometimes they forget to add those jobs—the chopping and cleaning, all the prep—in executing the dish. That’s where the mistake starts. I would say, above all else, watch the clock.

I think our food choices are the single most important choice that we’ll ever make for our health. If you eat healthily, you would not need to have medicine.

When it comes to food, what do you advise everyone to do in this time of Covid-19?

Whether you are rich or poor, we are all in this together. We have to learn how to conserve. We don’t know how long the food or the virus is going to last. I would say to buy a lot of dry goods. In the Philippines, you eat a lot of mung beans. I would stock up on a lot of those. Rice, lentils, beans, quinoa, pasta—keep a variety. Buy a lot of protein and freeze it. Have a lot of vitamins, oils, and vinegar. You can premake sauces with garlic and onions and freeze that sauce. The biggest thing is to make sure that we are not wasting anything. I think this is a good lesson for us to learn regardless of what is going on, but we are forced to learn it now.

Do you believe that food is medicine?

I do believe food can be medicine. I think our food choices are the single most important choice that we’ll ever make for our health. If you eat healthily, you would not need to have medicine. Eat well, eat clean, eat a lot of variety, 50 percent of your food intake should be fruits and vegetables.

 

When I was bringing up my daughter, when she was little, there are things that I was strict about and one of them is what she ate. I know I need to teach her to have good habits on eating. I think we all have the responsibility to teach the next generation how to eat well.

Top Chef season 17 All-Stars LA is available to stream and download on Hayu.

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