BOSTON (Reuters) - “Top Chef” TV show host Padma Lakshmi appeared in federal court in Boston on Monday, and testified she was “terrified” after a member of the Teamsters union, accused of extorting the show’s production company for jobs, appeared to threaten her in 2014.
Lakshmi’s testimony came during the second week of trial in the criminal case of four Teamsters members accused of trying to secure paid jobs for work that the non-union company producing the Bravo network cooking-competition show did not need.
She told jurors that while being driven to the Steel & Rye restaurant in Milton, Massachusetts, where filming for “Top Chef” was planned on June 10, 2014, a man not affiliated with the show who looked “really mad” approached her van.
“He rested his arm on my door where the window was down, and he kind of said, ‘Oh, looky here, what a pretty face’ or ‘What a shame about that pretty face,” Lakshmi said.
Prosecutors say that man was John Fidler, one of four Teamsters members on trial who they claim told Lakshmi: “I’ll smash your pretty little face.”
“I could feel my heart beat in my chest, like when you’re scared as a child,” Lakshmi said.
She said she took the comment as indicating he might hit her. He also called her driver a “derogatory” term, Lakshmi said.
“I was terrified,” she said.
The four Teamsters - Fidler, Daniel Redmond, Robert Cafarelli and Michael Ross - have pleaded not guilty to conspiracy and attempted extortion charges.
Prosecutors claim the Teamsters engaged in thug tactics to secure wages for unnecessary service as drivers during the filming of “Top Chef,” which had hired non-union workers for those positions.
Defense lawyers say the Teamsters Local 25 members were engaged in legitimate picketing activities as the union tried to negotiate jobs.
Prosecutors have said Steel & Rye was picked as a filming location after the Teamsters learned “Top Chef” was filming in Boston and a hotel worried about picketing withdrew from the production.
Members of the “Top Chef” production crew have testified that Teamsters harassed them at Steel & Rye, shouting racial and homophobic slurs and threatening them.
“Top Chef” judge Gail Simmons testified earlier on Monday that when she arrived at the set, men surrounded her van, including one who put his head through an open window and began yelling.
“I recall him being very aggressive and animated,” she said. “I remember being afraid.”
Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston