The Future of Food TV: Padma Lakshmi, Carla Hall, Alex Guarnaschelli on Expanding the Unscripted Kitchen

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·3 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Cooking is physical. Chefs fry and freeze and sauté and sear. They start early and stay late and, on TV, have been typically portrayed as daring men who gallivant around the globe — or at least in their kitchens — with swagger.

Longtime “Top Chef ” host Padma Lakshmi was tired of seeing that trope, especially as an immigrant who grew up in one such community in the United States.

More from Variety

“I love travel food shows and I watched them all, but they were all kind of lifestyle-y,” she says. “Women teaching you how to be the best hostess or men swashbuckling around the world, showing how cool they were and how rugged or edgy they could be by eating obscure foods.”

After more than 20 years in the food industry, Lakshmi wanted to create a series with her own spin. In “Taste the Nation” for Hulu, she does exactly that.

“I wanted to talk about family,” she says. “If you’re looking at food and family, traditionally, you are looking at the woman’s role. I wanted to do my own version of it. I’ve been on TV for a long time and there are different rules for women on television than there are for men on television, whether you’re in food television or in reality television or any television.”

For years, the professional perception of a chef didn’t match domestic expectations, where cooking was seen as women’s work. Now, they are reclaiming cooking in front of the camera and behind the scenes.

“Top Chef ” alum and “Best Baker in America” host Carla Hall attributes these changes to the landscape of producers also diversifying. “Thirteen years ago, I saw women as PAs; now those women are directors and artistic directors,” she says. The difference is that the door has opened for increasingly diverse culinary perspectives.

“I definitely see more women cooking and competing,” says Alex Guarnaschelli, whose cooking show resume includes “Chopped,” “Guy’s Grocery Games,” “The Kitchen,” “Supermarket Stakeout” and more. “Look at a show like ‘Tournament of Champions’: This is the second season out of two where the finale has been between two women and three out of the four finalists have been women. You see women winning routinely on ‘Chopped.’”

Change at the top can also lead to showcasing a variety of cuisines, instead of the usual Eurocentric, French-based fine dining fare. This mission to highlight different types of food serves as a guiding ethos for Lakshmi.

“I really wanted to look at food as it relates to the American family, whether that’s African American or Chinese American or Mexican American,” she says.

But it’s not just the food industry — or more specifically, the food show industry — that is responsible for introducing and amplifying female talent in restaurants, on-camera or behind the scenes. The press also plays a role in how these shifts are perceived and talked about in the general lexicon. Guarnaschelli really hopes to see the language surrounding women in the cooking industry evolve so female chefs are normalized in the media.

“Let’s not make it, ‘Oh wow, look what a woman chef did.’ It’s just, ‘Oh wow, look what this chef did today,’” she says. “I don’t want people to notice anymore.”

Best of Variety

Sign up for Variety’s Newsletter. For the latest news, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.