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Top Chef: New York, judges, Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio, Gail Simmons

Bravo Photo: Michael Lavine

Top Chef starts cookin' tonight with the premiere of season five.

I caught up with the reality show's sultry host Padma Lakshmi yesterday to talk hot dogs, the economy and her dreams of bringing the show to London.

Read on for all the—yeah, I'm gonna say it—dish…

Top Chef is in New York City this time around. How does that feel?
I was so excited to do it here. You know, every season I kept saying, "When are we going to do it in New York? When are we going to do it in New York?" And they kept saying, "Next season, next season." Finally, next season is this season.

Why is the city so special?
I really think it's the culinary capital of the world. I'm biased because I'm a New Yorker, but I think the greatest chefs are here and the best restaurants. And I'm not just talking only about the fine-dining restaurants. I'm talking about everything.

So, does that mean you eat hot dogs from hot-dog stands?
I do.

What do you like on them?
I like sauerkraut and mustard or relish and mustard.

What about Europe? When will Top Chef go overseas?
I'm dying to go to Europe. I don't know if it'll happen though...The airfares, the hotels and the dollar is so low against the pound and the euro.

What city would you pick?
Oh, gosh. It could be Rome. It could be Paris. But London's a great city, too. It's not that dissimilar from New York in that it's got all these great chefs but it also has an interesting mix of different ethnicities and restaurants...Obviously, countries like France and Italy have their own food traditions, as do Morocco and Spain, but if you're going to do a whole season in a city, I think the European city that I would go to first would be London.

Has the bad economy affected the tone of the show in terms of what the contestants are asked to prepare or how to prepare it?
That's a great question. You know, I think we have addressed it without knowing how timely it would become because, if you notice, a lot of our challenges have a really tight budget. We do it by making parameters of, you have this much money, but you have to feed this many people. So that's always a struggle. Every challenge is about balancing your food budget. Every single one.