Pack your knives because Top Chef is heading to London! Bravo has brought together 16 of the best chefs from different international versions of the franchise to compete in a “World: All-Stars” edition.
Season 20 of the Emmy-winning series, hosted by Padma Lakshmi with judges Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons, will feature returning U.S. contestants Amar Santana (season 13), Sara Bradley (season 16), Dawn Burrell (season 18) and reigning season 19 winner Buddha Lo competing against winners and finalists from other Top Chef iterations including Italy, Canada, Germany, the Middle East and more.
“I wouldn’t call it a normal Top Chef season,” Lakshmi exclusively told Us Weekly while on set in London during fall 2022. “The merit of having these all-stars and having them be global is that not only do you get a crop of competitors that are already seasoned and know what the show is about and know more or less what to expect, you also have people who have been sort of the cream of the crop in their country.”
Of the caliber of competition, she said, “I know so many Top Chefs who didn’t even win and who didn’t even make it past Restaurant Wars. And yet their restaurants are full and their reservation books are packed and closed for months because of the experience and the exposure that they’ve received. So here you’re starting off with people who are already at the top of their game, and that’s exciting. So it’s not at all like a regular season of Top Chef.”
Simmons agreed, telling Us, “They’re all finalists or winners of their respective seasons so they’ve been in this game, they’ve won this game, they’ve conquered this game. And even though it’s a little bit different from how we do it, I think their competitive spirit is really apparent.”
Lo, who came in first place during Top Chef: Houston in early 2022, is back to defend his title in this all-star edition. “I think it’s great. I think I would wanna do that too,” Lakshmi said of him returning for back-to back seasons. “Buddha is a very competitive chef. I think he’s also smart in knowing that he wants to try and keep his title a little longer if he can. Time will tell whether he’s able to do that, but he’s also had the most recent practice.”
Simmons shared that sentiment, calling Lo “unstoppable.” She added, “I think he’s just on a high and was, like, ‘Let’s just keep going. I’m in the groove. I’m just gonna keep plowing forward. World domination.’ I mean, respect. I can’t believe when I showed up here and saw that he was one of our contestants.”
In past seasons, the finale has been hosted in locations around the world like Singapore, Italy, China and Mexico, but this is the first time the production is filming an entire season outside the U.S.
Lakshmi actually lived in London for eight years so she was familiar with the culinary offerings. ”I would describe the London food landscape as the most international in the world,” the cookbook author told Us. “London is very diverse in that it’s also the center of the world. I think in North America we’re a little bit isolated, and of course, we have so many immigrant cuisines that influence food in big urban areas like New York or L.A. But here in London, I think what’s wonderful is that you can not only find restaurants from everywhere in the world, in both the high end and the mom and pop, little hole-in-the-wall.”
The Taste the Nation host continued, “You can also find grocery stores with everything – a lot of African cuisine, a lot of Middle Eastern cuisine. Every different country in Asia is represented here. I mean, that’s largely in part to colonialism and a post-colonial world, but it’s also because, to me, the best cities in the world to eat are London, New York – of the places I’ve been – and perhaps Hong Kong.”
Simmons also loves the “streamlined modernity” of the U.K. “Yes, there’s the traditional British food, but then there is incredible food from everywhere else,” she explained. “You can get the best of the best, the best Sri Lankan food, the best Nigerian food, the best Malaysian food, the best Filipino [cuisine]. There’s so much energy to this city. My list of restaurants is endless and endless because there’s so many places I wanna try. But I also really love the British sensibility that a lot of restaurants here really bring to their food.”
The Food & Wine editor added, “It’s also just great to be out of America for a little while. It gives you perspective on our food, on what we think is important as a priority, not just in life, but specifically in cooking and food. It’s always a great check to leave your comfort zone and to be in another country that doesn’t care as much about America as America cares about America – as any country cares about itself, you know, you’re very introspective. There’s a lot of navel-gazing. And so it’s just nice to see that there are bigger trends, bigger stories being told, more stories than we are used to hearing. It really shifts your mindset.”
The series has been nominated for 42 Emmy Awards since its 2006 inception, winning two – Outstanding Picture Editing for Reality Programming and Outstanding Reality-Competition Program.
“This season feels bigger than ever,” Simmons explained of the landmark 20th season. “I know that we’re not a tiny show anymore. I used to like be like, ‘Oh, we’re just this tiny little show,’ and, like, eight seasons later, they had to be like, ‘Yeah, we’re not so small.’ And as you can see, we’re a pretty big production here, but this feels really special this season. I’ve noticed it. Every location we pull up to, every time I’m on set, I’m like, ‘Wow, we really created something that can’t be replicated.’ We’ve really done it well. And our producers have always been open to new perspectives, and they’re always open to our ideas and to the changing moments in our industry.”
As for the future of the show, Lakshmi told Us, “I think everything has a beginning and middle and end. It’s hard say. I think we can only judge when those points are in retrospect. We’re very lucky. We have a very loyal fan base.”
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Top Chef: World All-Stars premieres on Bravo Thursday, March 9, at 9 p.m. ET.