‘Top Chef’ Stars Testify Against Arrested Teamsters

BOSTON (CN) – Testifying against a group of Teamsters who crashed the set of Bravo television series “Top Chef,” stars Padmi Lakshmi and Gail Simmons said the ordeal terrified them.

Robert Cafarelli, John Fidler, Daniel Remond and Michael Ross are all facing criminal extortion charges related to their interference at a “Top Chef” shoot just south of Boston during the 2014 season.

Prosecutors say supposed picketing to have the show hire union drivers from Teamsters Local 25 included hurling profanity, as well as anti-gay and racist slurs, at “Top Chef’s” non-union production staff. Throughout the season in Boston, at least 11 tires were also slashed on different cars used by the show.

“I really didn’t want to cross this line,” testified Lakshmi, who described herself as a union member in the Screen Actors Guild. “I really didn’t want anything to do with it. The men were pretty well built and looked like smokers.”

Lakshmi rose to fame in the United States after making a name for herself as the first internationally successful Indian supermodel. She testified that Fidler threatened her on the picket line by reaching his arm through the unrolled window of a van driving her to the studio. “Oh lookie here,” Fidler said, according to Lakshmi’s testimony. “What a shame about that pretty face.”

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

In addition to Lakshmi, who hosts the popular Bravo series, the court heard from “Top Chef” judge Gail Simmons.

A former editor with Food and Wine Magazine, Simmons said she felt afraid when one of the Teamsters berated her with profanities.

“I don’t remember the words he used, except for scab,” said Simmons, noting that the only reason she remembered that word was because at the time, she did not know it was a slur for a non-union worker who takes a union worker’s job.

Simmons said that she arrived at Steel and Rye in Milton, Mass., after the Teamsters had already appeared.

“There was a lot of noise and people in heated conversations,” she said. “There aren’t many times in my life I can recall feeling that afraid. I thought I could be harmed.”

Since the trial started last week, jurors have heard from various members of the “Top Chef” production team.

Previous testimony has focused on allegations that Kenneth Brissette, Boston’s now-indicted former tourism chief, threatened to withhold permits for Boston scenes unless Teamsters were hired.

Brissette was arrested last year on charges that he pressured the organizers of a musical festival in Boston to hire union labor.

Mark Harrington, a fifth union member was present at the “Top Chef” skirmish, pleaded guilty in 2015 and was sentenced to two years of probation, six months of which included house arrest.

The prosecution is expected to rest its case against the remaining defendants on Tuesday, Aug. 8.

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