Why is it still cooking after 20 seasons

Please pack your knives and go.

How many times has Padma Lakshmi, the ever-chic host and judge of Bravo’s reality institution “Top Chef,” uttered those words to eager, hungry chefs competing for prize money and culinary glory?

At least a few hundred at this point, as the cooking competition series begins its 20th season (Thursday, 9 EST/PST). Since its debut in 2006, “Chef” has made Lakshmi a household name, launched the careers of dozens of chefs, weathered a pandemic that brought the restaurant industry to its knees and created hilarious controversies from pea soup to risotto. And in some ways, it looks like “Chef” is just getting started.

As he heads to London for the first “World All-Stars” competition in Season 20, we look back at how “Chef” cooked up a recipe for reality longevity.

What you need to know about Top Chef Season 20

For its new season, Bravo sent the series overseas to London for a “World All Stars” competition among alumni from the show’s original American run and many of its international counterparts. And unlike past All-Star seasons, this new batch of contestants includes some past winners in the mix.

Some of the notable American chefs include Season 19 winner Buddha Lo, Season 16 finalist Sarah Bradley, and Season 18 finalist Dawn Burrell.

Why Top Chef is still simmering

Some reality shows come and go without a whisper in our collective memories to let us know they were there (remember “Joe Millionaire”? “Skating With the Stars”? “Mr. Personality”?). A select few become pop culture institutions that last for decades. Seventeen years later, “Chef” is going strong not only commercially but also creatively, adapting to a changing world far better than almost any other long-running series, in ways both subtle and seminal.

Padma Lakshmi addresses the group from

Over its first 10 seasons, “Chef” slowly shed the coziness, roommate drama, and youth antics that were reality TV. premise in the early 2000s. Somewhere along the way, the show went from simply abandoning its negativity to being a force for creative prowess, a showcase for competence and greatness. As much fun as it is to watch judge Tom Colicchio roast a contestant who didn’t season his dish, it’s much more enjoyable to watch the hardened chef’s face light up with joy when he tries something amazing. It’s a far cry from the time in Season 2 when one of the contestants tried to forcibly shave another’s head.

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