Padma Lakshmi is teaming up with Stella Artois to celebrate the reopening of restaurants. The host of “Top Chef” and “Taste the Nation” stars in the new campaign, “Your Table Is Ready,” which offers diners their first Stella Chalice drink for free when dining out at participating venues. The campaign also includes the sale of special Stella aluminum bottles benefiting the James Beard Foundation’s Open for Good restaurant relief program.

“I love that Stella is not only buying the first one, but then also introducing the aluminum can and giving money to the James Beard Foundation as well,” Lakshmi tells me. “They’re putting their money where their mouth is both at the consumer level, but also at an organizational level. I’ve been working with the James Beard Foundation since the very beginning of the pandemic on their Open for Good program. So it was a really great fit for us, for me and James Beard.”

Lakshmi is back at work shooting the second season of “Taste of the Nation,” her Emmy-nominated Hulu food series. Cameras started rolling last week. The sophomore outing will be slimmed down due to the pandemic. “It will be like a mini-seasonette for the holidays. Otherwise we would never have gotten it done for this calendar year,” Lakshmi explains. “I’m lucky in that the show received such nice critical attention when it did come out last year that — it’s my baby, obviously — don’t want the chill to go cold. So Hulu, and me and my partner, David Smith, just made a decision, like, ‘Let’s do a shortened season. Let’s get it up for the holidays when people are all in the mood to get together and talk about family in these situations and these subjects, and then we’ll resume like a regular season next year.’”

The new season of “Top Chef” was shot during the pandemic using strict COVID protocols in Portland, Ore. “It was one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do professionally,” Lakshmi said. “It was not only the pandemic but it was in Portland during the fires. There were days when I couldn’t even poke my nose outside. And there were also civil protests and then the counter protests. But we had been wanting to go to Portland for a long time and now we really wanted to support the city and the locals.”

Lakshmi also opened about how she thinks India’s government has failed in its response to the pandemic. Read her remarks in this week’s “Just for Variety” here.