Making of a "Top Chef" Finale

Virginia Sherwood/Bravo

THR was exclusively on set in British Columbia for the upcoming three-part finale.

♦ "We do battle it out at the judges table because we like to make sure we feel good about our decision," says host Padma Lakshmi. "Oftentimes Tom will step in as the guiding force because we take it seriously and take our time. And we don't get paid more if we deliberate until 5 a.m."

♦ "We have producers who have worked on every season," says Cutforth of the crew. "They've learned to solve any logistical problem."

♦ Inside the gondola's tight quarters, a camera operator shoots preemptive footage of the chef station so as not to bother the contestant during preparation of his or her meal.

♦ "Chef-testant" Paul Qui takes a break during the Whistler Olympic Park challenge. "Never in nine seasons have the execs ever told us who to vote off," says judge Simmons.

♦ Padma Lakshmi consults with director Steve Hryniewicz about the pace of the challenge. "We will not hold the contest so I can get my nose powdered," says Lakshmi. "If I'm not ready, too bad."

♦ Producers huddle in the outdoor "video village" while the camera crew shifts production to accommodate for shadows and to prepare for the challenge "reveal" to contestants.

♦ For the second contest, the remaining contestants chip away at ice blocks for ingredients. "Sometimes I step in if a challenge seems too extreme," says Colicchio, also a producer.

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