Padma Lakshmi Testifies In Court In Extortion Trial That Left Her Terrified

Photo: Paul Bruinooge/Patrick McMullan/Getty Images.
Padma Lakshmi, the host of hit cooking show Top Chef, took the stand this week and testified against the four men from Boston Teamsters Local 25 accused of harassing and extorting the Top Chef crew for jobs. In their emotional testimonies, the crew revealed that the protesters said many racist and sexist remarks, many of which were aimed at Lakshmi. Her assistant, Jason Duffy, was with her at the time and also was the victim of homophobic slurs.
The Top Chef crew was pulling into their location for the day, a restaurant called Steel & Rye, when they noticed a line of protesters outside the building. The prosecutors claim that the Teamsters were trying to shut down production unless they were given jobs as drivers. The show had already hired non-union drivers. Lakshmi and other witnesses, including Duffy and Top Chef judge Gail Simmons, feel that the protesters went too far and nothing was done about their harassment and verbal attacks.
Once they were in the parking lot, a protester leaned into Lakshmi's open window. “He kinda said, ‘Oh, looky here, what a pretty face. What a shame about that pretty face,’” Lakshmi recalled. "I felt he was bullying me. I thought he might hit me. I felt threatened."
The supervising culinary producer, Sandee Birdsong, also testified that Lakshmi was personally attacked by the Teamsters. She said that “One of the Teamsters said, ‘There’s the pretty one,’ and everybody started to swarm her car," then one of the men put his hand through Lakshmi's window and said "he would ‘Mess up her pretty face’ or ‘Punch her in the face,’ or something like that.”
Several other members of the crew testified that they heard the protesters say discriminatory slurs such as "towel head" and "pickle," which is a local phrase for a gay man. Last week, the show's supervising producer, Ellie Carbajal submitted a video she recorded that shows the men harassing her and saying sexist insults.
Among all the hate, the care each Top Chef member showed for one another is inspiring. For example, despite the backlash she received, Lakshmi had more concern for her longtime assistant, Duffy.
"I felt really bad for Jason," she said on the stand. "He looked terrified. I thought it was less likely that they would hit a girl. I’m glad they didn’t go to Jason’s side. He’s the unsung hero of our show.”
Our hearts go out to the Top Chef family and we hope that they get through this troubling trial and come out even stronger.
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