Exclusive: True Tales of a ‘Top Chef’ Paparazzo; Six Cheftestants Left?

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Padma Lakshmi glides by a FedEx truck. Photo: Vanita Salisbury

We sent intrepid New York intern Vanita Salisbury out to Le Bernardin this afternoon for the Top Chef shoot. Below, her first-person account of brushes with Padma Lakshmi and tracking Tom Colicchio at 50 paces.

Today, I got the awesome assignment of staking out Le Bernardin because someone had written that Top Chef was filming there today. Our editors tried not to pee themselves when thinking about an exclusive photo opportunity. I probably sound a little bitter, and that’s because I am. Here’s how it went down:

I get there at around 1:45 p.m. with a book and iPod handy in case I’m there a while. There’s a bunch of twentysomethings all in black milling around with earpieces, trying to keep themselves occupied as they wait. Classic Production Assistant look.

At around 2:45 p.m. I get a little antsy. I can’t really concentrate on my book because I need to keep an eye on the three entrances in case something important happens.

I think I see Tom Colicchio come out and dart into a red van. I get a great shot of his ass.

3:30 p.m.: Still antsy. The P.A.s have doughnuts but do not offer to share. I overhear that there are six chefs in the kitchen, and something about lots of knives. Six cheftestants left, or Eric Ripert, Colicchio, and four chefs?

Approximately 4:15 p.m.: Padma Lakshmi arrives in what looks like the same red van that Colicchio left in. I jump up and take a few snaps. A P.A. tries to be confrontational and sarcastically asks me if I got any good shots. I say no. I ask if I’m in the way and he says “Sort of,” so I move. I pat myself on the back for being considerate.

Does Tom Colicchio carpool with Eric Ripert?Photo: Vanita Salisbury

I’m a little farther back when I see Colicchio talking to the herd of black. I lift my camera up, but the P.A. from before is standing right in front of me. Maybe he just wants my number, I think. But then I move, and he moves with me, blocking my shot. “Seriously?” I ask. He nods. “I’m working,” he says. “What are you doing?”

And so our little dance went. I finally give up, but as I’m leaving, a man comes over and asks to see my pictures. He identifies himself as the talent coordinator, and explains that he just wants to see if there’s a picture of “Padma’s boob sticking out or something.” After lamely protesting that I’m a “private citizen” and kissing his ass by fawning over the show, I give in and show him the pictures, almost in tears.

I’m so not cut out to be a papparazzo.