Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons spill Top Chef secrets

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Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons spill Top Chef secrets
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Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons spill Top Chef secrets

Learn how long it takes Padma to lose the Top Chef weight, Gail's advice for future cheftestants and why Tom refuses to hire any chefs from the show.

Are there any big firsts this season?

Gail: We celebrate our 150th episode this season, which is mind-blowing, so that was a huge accomplishment, and we do it in style. There are some amazing guest judges this season. People from all different genres of entertainment; not just chefs. We have people like Lea Michele and Jon Favreau and some of the greatest jazz musicians living today.

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You've been with the show since the beginning. When did you know it was going to be as huge as it is?

Gail: Not on day one, episode one! I knew we were on to something towards the end of season two. I thought, "People are paying attention, people understand what we are trying to do."

How has it changed?

Gail: The level of chef determines everything about this show. It's really a show about the talent in the kitchen. It just gets better every year.

Image Credit: Getty Images

What is your all-time favorite dish from any season?

Padma: The fideos with clams and chorizo that Ilan Hall made in the penultimate episode of Los Angeles that took place with Eric Ripert in Santa Barbara.

Image Credit: Bravo/NBC Universal

Do you have an all-time favorite dish and who made it?

Tom: I always say Paul Qui; he did a very simple vegetable dish with dashi and it was just so beautiful and the nice thing about it was that most chefs would look at it and think it needed more, but he just knew when to leave it alone. Perfect dish.

Image Credit: Bravo/NBC Universal

You were a vegetarian as a child. Does anything still make you squeamish?

Padma: There is always one episode of Top Chef that makes me squeamish; they call it the "fear factor" episode. This time we got it over with the first episode with alligator, turtle and frog legs. It wasn't as bad this season, but sometimes it's a little rough. I manage to eat enough of what I have to do my job well.

Image Credit: Getty Images

You taste amazing things from amazing chefs, but have you ever been scared to try anything?

Gail: Oh yes, sure! There is always food that isn't exactly as you hoped it would be; the chefs cook in really difficult circumstances and sometimes they are not on their game, but I've only gotten sick on the show once.

We couldn't do our jobs if we weren't willing to be adventurous and taste everything. The chefs put their heart into it so I'm always excited to see what they make.

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What gave you the confidence to realize the difference between really good food and amazing food?

Tom: I cook; I'm a chef; I've been doing this since I was 13 years old. As a chef you know the difference between a dish that you knock out of the park and a dish that needs work. It's not so much about having a refined palate; that's so overrated. Because I've been doing this for so long, I know what food tastes like; I know what it should taste like. I'm also very much aware of technique and how you actually create flavor, so I can look at something right away and say, "that's not cooked right."

Image Credit: Getty Images

Did other judges or guest judges see different things in food than you did?

Tom: That's what is great about guest judges--everybody sort of brings their baggage to what they are eating. It also [can be] one of those things where a chef goes, "well, if this were my challenge I'd do X, Y and Z." That's really great, but we aren't judging on what you would have done, we are judging on what they do. Stick to what they did and let's judge on what is in front of us. That's what's really important that guest judges need to understand. If [they] want to be a contestant next year, we will have [them] on, no problem.

Image Credit: Bravo/NBC Universal

Is it hard to be brutally honest to the contestants?

Padma: It's not hard to be brutally honest; it is important to be brutally honest because you aren't doing them any favors. They want constructive feedback. Any chef that really cares about what they are doing is appreciative of it as long as it isn't a personal knock, which we don't tolerate on the show.

Image Credit: Bravo/NBC Universal

Have you picked up any styles or secrets from past Top Chef contestants?

Padma: Top Chef is really about professional chefs. I'm a home cook and that's different. There are sometimes when you taste a flavor combination, two things paired together that you've never done before, and you think ,"Oh, wow, maybe I'll take something from that and do my own version." It's never literal. [I made] my own version of marmalade and scallops that Ilan made once [but] with kumquats.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Are there any Top Chef contestants you would hire to work at your own restaurants?

Tom: I would hire a lot of them, but I haven't and I won't, only because I don't want someone to say, "so and so won because Tom wanted to hire them." So I just stay out of it.

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What Top Chef challenge do you think would be hardest for you?

Gail: All of them! There are a few I'm pretty sure I'd be fine with, but I'm not a professional chef so I don't claim to be able to do half the stuff that these guys can do. They are like athletes preparing for the Olympics when they are on the show and I am the lazy couch potato. I am truly amazed at the end of every elimination challenge when there is food in front of us that looks as good as it does. I don't know how they do it. They are geniuses; mad geniuses! You've got to be able to not even think, just cook.

Image Credit: Bravo/NBC Universal

How do you keep in shape during filming?

Padma: It is hard because I don't have a lot of time, but I usually jump rope or do stairs or go to the gym when I can. I have to eat what I have to eat so it takes me 6 weeks to gain and it takes me 12 to lose. After the show is finished, that's when I tune all of the bad things out of my diet.

Image Credit: Getty Images

Where would you want the next season to be?

Gail: Paris, but no one is listening to me! I'd take Rome, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, I could go on. I'm working on it.

Image Credit: Getty Images

If you could have one Top Chef contestant cook for you for the rest of time, who would it be?

Padma: Kevin Gillespie. I just love his food. It's very earthy; I love his approach to it. It's hard to choose one. Kristen Kish would also be top on my list. Stephanie Izard, Dale Talde. It's an embarrassment of riches; I'd be happy for many of the Top Chef contestants to cook for me for the rest of my life.

Image Credit: Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images Entertainment

What is your advice to future Top Chef contestants?

Gail: I think the best way to prepare is to know that you can't prepare. You can cook and practice and time yourself in a kitchen, but at the end of the day, you never know what we are going to throw at you. You are going to sleep with one eye open, and that's the fun of the sport. We always want to push things and make things more exciting, more challenging and different, so I think for anyone who wants to be on the show with us, just keep cooking and be serious about what you do and true to who you are as a chef.

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Bravo's Top Chefkicks off its 11th season in a very special place: New Orleans.

We chatted with the stars of the series, Tom Colicchio, Padma Lakshmi and Gail Simmons who couldn't say enough about the city they filmed in. Tom exposed that the crew went out nearly every night to explore the city. "I'm a music fan so it was great to get out and listen to music," he explains.

Gail fell in love with the city as well, noting, "I can't think of a better city to do a season of Top Chef in. I can't believe it took us this long to do! The food is so incredible, the people, the music, the scenery, the history, the culture--there was just so much to see and do we could have done 20 more episodes there."

Padma also enjoyed shooting in New Orleans this season and shares her explorations in the web series, Padma's Picks. Compared to seasons in the past and due to the incredible setting, Padma explains, "I just had more fun."

Check out the slideshow above to learn how long it takes Padma to lose the Top Chef weight, Gail's advice for future cheftestants and why Tom refuses to hire any chefs from the show.

Catch Top Chef on Wednesdays at 10pm ET/PT.

Want to see Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons at New York City Wine & Food Festival? Learn more here and here.

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