Why Andy Cohen Dropped the Original ‘Top Chef’ Host, Katie Lee: Her Heart ‘Was Pounding Hard Enough to Be Heard’

Fans of the Food Network know Katie Lee as the peppy co-host of the popular show The Kitchen. A new mom and bestselling author, Katie Lee is doing quite well for herself. However, when she first burst onto the food scene, she had a hard time finding her footing. As the original host of the fan-favorite TV show Top Chef, Lee didn’t resonate with fans, and as Andy Cohen later revealed, she was cut from the show after the first season for a rather startling reason. 

Lee was the original host of ‘Top Chef’

Chef/Author Katie Lee Joel attends the kick off of the National GroGood campaign at the Food Bank For New York City's Community Kitchen of West Harlem on March 18, 2009 in New York City.
Katie Lee | Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic

Lee is well known for her love of food, but she actually worked as a model in the early days of her career. It was her modeling aspirations that helped her to meet rock star Billy Joel. In 2004, Joel and Lee tied the knot, and Lee began using his name professionally. In fact, Lee was married to Joel when she was cast as the host of Top Chef in 2006. 

Lee received criticism from fans right away, with some accusing the foodie of not having enough experience to land such a gig. Others slammed her for relying on her rock-star husband in order to book such a big-name show. However, the most damning criticism of Lee came from viewers who accused her of not having the charm and on-camera expertise to be a good host.

One fan on Reddit noted “you will find that many people did not like Katie as a host. They felt that she didn’t know what she really was talking about, was too nervous, and didn’t understand how to transition every piece of the show to put it together well as a host.” In fact, Lee was let go from the show after the first season, with Padma Lakshmi brought in to replace her. 

What is Lee doing these days?

Cohen later opened up about one specific incident that detailed how uncomfortable Katie Lee was in her role as Top Chef host. Cohen recalled how, when on set, the crew started hearing a loud thumping noise during the first elimination round. “Nobody could figure out what it was. Was someone pounding on a door somewhere? Was a piece of equipment failing?” Cohen described. “Finally the audio guy realized what he was hearing. ‘That’s Katie’s heart!’ he screamed. I love a host with a big heart, and Katie Lee felt so bad about having to send anyone home that hers was pounding hard enough to be heard in the sound mix.”

Lee’s career wasn’t tainted too badly by the short stint on Top Chef. Ultimately, she went on to host several TV shows of her own, including Beach Bites. She also divorced Joel in 2010, and these days, she is married to TV producer Ryan Biegel, with whom she shares a daughter named Iris. While the cookbook author still receives criticism from those who question her skills in the kitchen, she clearly isn’t sweating the haters and is obviously much more at ease on camera. 

Padma Lakshmi is the current fan-favorite host of ‘Top Chef’

Ultimately, Padma Lakshmi would find lasting success as the host of Top Chef, a gig that she still has to this day. The host and author has received praise from fans for being so transparent about life in the spotlight and has opened up several times about how “insecure” she felt in her early days on the set of Top Chef. Lakshmi is noted for her easy charm and for her instinctive ability to relate to contestants — and it is that ability that has helped her to remain so successful. Lakshmi has also talked openly about how she gains weight each season of the show, and how hard she has to work to lose the weight when the season ends.

Reportedly, Lakshmi’s net worth is around $40 million, and even though she has been attached to Top Chef since 2006, it seems likely that she will remain the host of the show for the foreseeable future. Stay tuned to Showbiz Cheat Sheet for all the latest entertainment news!

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