The chef describes Lakshmi as "one of the coolest people to meet — and she really knows what she's talking about"
Credit: David Moir/Bravo

Richard Blais is astonished at the alleged extortion and racial slurs that Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi claims she had to endure while working on the show.

“I was a judge on that season,” the Starving for Attention podcast host recently told PEOPLE at Santa Margherita’s She Shed in Brooklyn, New York. “I remember it in the moment as being a thing that was happening, but none of it happened while I was around … so I can’t talk about it firsthand.”

Still, Blais unwaveringly supports his costar of many seasons on the Bravo culinary competition, who testified in court last week that she felt physically “threatened” by one of four teamsters who were picketing outside a Milton, Massachusetts, restaurant to secure work as drivers for the nonunion show.

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“I felt like he was bullying me,” Lakshmi, 46, said on court on Friday, “like he was telling me he was going to hit me. I could feel my heart beat in my chest.”

Now Blais, 45, is jumping to the defense of the former model, telling PEOPLE: “Padma actually is amazing. She’s one of the coolest people to meet, and she really knows what she’s talking about.”

Richard BlaisCredit: Stephanie Meiling/Santa Margherita
Credit: Stephanie Meiling/Santa Margherita

“I think early on—not anymore because it’s so successful—but a lot of people said, ‘Oh, she’s a pretty model, what does she know about food?’ She is pretty as well, don’t get me wrong, but she knows so much about food and the world,” continues the winner of the show’s all-stars season. “I mean she speaks multiple languages. She’s just amazing.”

And ask for Lakshmi’s famous claim that she keeps three dress sizes on hand during filming, Blais says with a smile: “She says that, but I don’t see it.”

New episodes of Starving for Attention with Richard Blais release every Tuesday via PodcastOne.