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April 20, 2017 11:45 AM

Barbara Lynch joins the biggest stars, leaders and athletes on TIME‘s 100 Most Influential People of 2017 as the only chef to make the list. In a powerful tribute, Top Chef‘s Padma Lakshmi explains what makes the James Beard Award winner a force in and out of the kitchen.

“A few years ago, while I was shooting Top Chef in Boston, Barbara Lynch threw a 12-person dinner party for me. It was such a warm gesture—I was new in the city and didn’t really know anyone—so I got to her home an hour early to help her cook,” she writes. “She had barely started prepping. I thought, Oh my God!, and told her I would be fine if we ordered food instead. ‘Absolutely not,’ she said. Forty-five minutes later, an entire feast appeared. That’s the kind of person Barbara is: she gets things done, even when they seem impossible.”

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Before Lynch went on to open seven restaurants and write her memoir, Out of Line, the chef grew up in a housing project in South Boston. Her aptitude for cooking at the age of 12 became her escape from the rough neighborhood.

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“She creates opportunities for herself, even when it seems like they do not exist,” writes Lakshmi. “And she is creating opportunities for others as well, particularly young women.”

The pair’s relationship deepened after Lynch took Lakshmi “under her wing” and started mentoring Top Chef contestants like Season 10 winner Kristen Kish. “She is a great teacher and a true provider—not just of glorious foods but of different spaces for people to flourish and grow in,” she says.

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