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Top Chef's Padma Lakshmi delivers bombshell news as fans share devastation

 "I feel it's time to move on," Padma says of a "difficult decision"

Padma Lakshmi
Justin Ravitz
Justin RavitzEditorial Director, U.S.New York
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Say it ain't so! After 17 years, 20 seasons, and more quickfires and elimination challenges than we have the emotional capacity to tally up right now, Padma Lakshmi is packing up her knives and going — leaving her perch as host of Bravo's Top Chef, she announced via Instagram on Friday.

"After much soul searching, I have made the difficult decision to leave Top Chef," Padma, 52, begins in her text-only Instagram post. "Having completed a glorious 20th season as host and executive producer, I am extremely proud to have been part of building such a successful show and of the impact it has had in the worlds of television and food." 

The cookbook author and former model joined the Emmy-winning reality cooking competition in 2006 for season two, taking the place of season one host Katie Lee. 

"After 17 years, many of the cast and crew are like family to me and I will miss working alongside them dearly," she continued.

On the series, Padma (joined by mainstay judges include Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons and a rotating roster of all-star chefs and food industry superstars) guides a sprawling cast of chefs (who are eliminated one by one each week) vying for the title of Top Chef, which includes a six-figure cash prize and other perks. 

Padma explained of her decision: "I feel it's time to move on and make space for Taste the Nation, my books, and other pursuits," she added of her Hulu food culture series, now in its second season. 

"I am deeply thankful to all of you for so many years of love and support. Sincerely, Padma." 

Padma Lakshmi on set of Top Chef© Bravo
Padma Lakshmi on set of Top Chef

Fans, naturally, were devastated by the news. "UNPACK UR KNIVES & STAY," wrote one in a callback to Padma's signature send off line to eliminated chefs "pack your knives and go." Added another: "You will be missed! So very much. You brought such joy, elegance, knowledge, poise….this list goes on. Wishing you all the best. Thank you for 20 wonderful seasons. #you will always be the OG to me."

A third chimed in among thousands of comments: "While I wish you nothing but the best, and you deserve all the good this world has to offer, selfishly I’m devastated and will need to feign a feeling of betrayal and indignation for a little while as part of my grieving process."

The Top Chef season 20 finale — this season takes place in London, and pits previous winners and runner-ups from the franchise all around the world — airs next Thursday on Bravo.

Padma has earned 14 Emmy nominations for her hosting stint on Top Chef but has yet to win. "We’'e in the golden age of television, and it’s really competitive. I’m sort of the Susan Lucci of reality television," she joked to Deadline. “It would be lovely to win."

padma lakshmi time 100 gala nyc© Getty Images
Padma looked stunning in her Marchesa gown at the Time 100

She also told the outlet how proud she was of Top Chef's maturation over the past decade and a half. "The caliber of the contestants has just gotten better and better and we've gotten more diverse in our casting," she said. Fans have seen the star spread her wings on Taste the Nation, a docu-series in which she explores food cultures across the U.S., with an emphasis on immigrant and indigenous communities as well as persons of color. 

"It's a much more cerebral enterprise [than Top Chef] and a lot of research," she told Deadline. "I'm telling other people’s stories and letting them tell as much as I can of it. But I'm still shaping it for them and with them. And I take that super seriously."

While Top Chef and now Taste the Nation has taken Padma all over the country and the world, she lives primarily in New York City with Krishna, her 13-year-old daughter with ex Adam Dell.

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