Top Chef: At the Judges' Table with Padma and Tom
We are only one week away from the premiere of Top Chef 4, and I, for one, can't wait. Top Chef 4 is taking place in Chicago, which many foodies – including judge Tom Colicchio – think is one of the best food cities in the country. Add to that a collection of cheftestants who, Tom says, is one of the strongest groups yet as an overall pool of talent, and this season is shaping up to be a good one.

Tom and host Padma Lakshmi took part in a conference call today with members of the press, and were as candid and straightforward as they normally are in judging. While they, obviously, can't divulge any secrets about what we'll see on Top Chef 4, they did give us some interesting scoop on what happens behind the scenes on the show, specifically at that judging table.

They both were adamant that – despite what many viewers think – personality and interactions behind the scenes don't play into their decisions at all. Success on Top Chef is, they stressed, entirely dependent on the quality of food on the plate.  Tom noted that Harold Dieterle's leadership abilities were commented on many times in Top Chef 1, but, Tom said, his authoritative and calm qualities were "coincidental" with his ability to produce delicious food. In other words, they were nice to have, but not directly related to why Harold actually was the judges' pick.

So for the vocal masses who were incensed that Hung Huynh won last season, since some perceived him to be self-interested and therefore not a good leader? Too bad, so sad, the judges seemed to be saying. Unless someone's personality flaws translate to a poor dish, it's not going to impact their standing on the show.

Tom reiterated a couple times that the judges are removed from the “reality show” elements of Top Chef, and both he and Padma pointed out that other than the specific time periods we see on camera (i.e., Quickfires, Tom's walk around the kitchen and judging), the judges are kept separate from the contestants. He said the wrap party for last season after the live reveal at the finale was probably the most time the judges have spent with the contestants.

So, when asked if they are ever shocked when they watch the show and see the contestants do something unexpected, Tom said because of the limited contact, the judges never really think they know the contestants as people, so they can't really have any expectations overturned. Padma, though, admitted she was shocked in general at the Top Chef 2 incident in which Cliff Crooks and the others attempted to shave Marcel Vigneron's head.

We'll have more insider info from Tom and Padma during the next few days before the premiere of Top Chef 4, including some clues as to what you can - and can't - look for as potential clues as to a possible successful chef.  Head back here to BuddyTV for more soon!

- Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
(Image courtesy of Bravo)