Padma Lakshmi Padma Lakshmi

What's the one thing Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi is craving nowadays?

"A good night's sleep," says the new mom of 3-month-old daughter Krishna Thea. Too bad that's about the only thing that can't be whipped up in TV's hottest kitchen, which moves to Washington, D.C., for Season 7 (premiering Wednesday at 9/8c on Bravo).

The 17 cheftestants face cooking challenges presented by D.C.'s movers and shakers — including astronaut Buzz Aldrin, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, assistant White House chef Sam Kass, MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and CIA director Leon Panetta. What's more, Eric Ripert joins Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons as a permanent judge.

"He has more stars from the New York Times and Michelin than any other chef on the continent," says Lakshmi of Ripert. "He brings that gravitas with him."

But even with Ripert helping decide who must pack his knives and go, according to Lakshmi, this batch of chefs manages to keep their cool: "These guys are very charming, gregarious, sort of kumbaya."

Bringing peace, harmony and good food to the nation's capital? Sounds delish

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