‘Top Chef’ Teamsters Trial: Second Producer Testifies About Incident That “Terrified” Padma Lakshmi
UPDATED with captioned video: A second female Top Chef producer testified today in Boston federal court that she too witnessed local Teamsters threatening to harm the show’s host, Padma Lakshmi, as she tried to cross their picket line back in June 2014.
The reality competition show’s former location manager also was on the stand today. Derek Cunningham, who since has left the business, testified that he has been in fear for his life since “the whole scene, generally, from June 5, honestly, to right now.”
Four Boston Teamsters stand accused of trying to extort the show for driving jobs. All have pleaded not guilty.
“They swarmed her vehicle and surrounded it,” Ellie Carbajal, a longtime supervising producer on the show, told the jury today. “They were furious,” she said, noting that one of them, his angry face only inches away from Lakshmi’s passenger-side window, said to the others: “That’s the pretty one. We want to smash her face in.”
Erica Ross, the show’s former co-executive producer, has testified Tuesday that she witnessed the same incident, saying that Lakshmi was “visibly terrified.” Lakshmi is expected to testify tomorrow.
Carbajal testified that she had urged crew members to videotape the Teamsters during the three-hour standoff at a restaurant in the Boston suburb of Milton, where the show was filming, but said no one captured the Lakshmi incident on video. She did, however, capture one of the defendants, Daniel Redmond, calling her a “c*nt” and a “towelhead.”
Video of that incident was shown in court today. Watch it above.
“Your momma would be so proud,” she can be heard on the tape telling Redmond.
“At least I’m not a scab like you,” he shot back.
“They got in my face,” she testified, barely holding back tears. “I was scared. I couldn’t believe they were doing this. They were grown men.”
Several Milton police officers, who were on hand to keep order, “didn’t do anything,” she testified. “They said [the Teamsters] were within their rights.” The police also reported that the tires of several production vehicles had been slashed, but they made no arrests. And the next day, Milton police sent the show an invoice for $2,846 for providing security.
Carbajal and Lakshmi weren’t the only ones scared of the Teamsters that day. Ex-location manager Cunningham testified earlier today that he “slept with a knife and a hatchet” after being intimidated by two of the Teamsters. “I didn’t receive any quote-unquote ‘death threats,'” he testified, but he has been in fear for his life since “the whole scene, generally, from June 5, honestly, to right now.”
Cunningham realized that the Teamsters had learned on June 5, 2014, that the nonunion show was filming near Boston, when Redmond showed up unannounced at the Revere Hotel, where the show was filming a cooking contest. When told that there was an angry Teamster downstairs, Cunningham, who at the time was a member of IATSE, told the producers, “I’ll go down and talk to him, but I quit.” Confronting Redmond downstairs, he said the Teamster yelled at him and said that he should be ashamed for working on a nonunion show and not letting the Teamsters know it was shooting in town. Cunningham said that later that night, he received a “harassing” phone call from defendant Robert Cafarelli, who told him, “Quitting was the smartest thing you’ve done in 2014.”
Top Chef had arranged to shoot another episode at the Omni Parker House a few days later, but the manager of that union hotel, when informed that the Teamsters would be picketing, withdrew the invitation rather than make his staff cross a picket line. So the producers scrambled to find a new location, and settled on the Steel & Rye restaurant in Milton, where the final battle with the Teamsters occurred.
Cunningham testified that he could “no longer work in Massachusetts” since his run-in with the Teamsters, and that since then, “my financial situation just started tanking.” Blackballed in Boston, he now works as an event planner, which he said is “not my dream job.”
During the morning session, a group of about 30 high school seniors — all of whom have been accepted to attend Harvard — stopped in the courtroom to witness an actual trial in session. They heard the back-and-forth direct and cross examination of Carbajal and then saw the video played on monitors. The students left the courtroom en masse immediately after the video ended. “We were shocked. The language was disgusting,” said one. “I felt really bad for the woman on the stand,” said another.
Redmond and Cafarelli have pleaded not guilty in the extortion trial, along with fellow Local 25 Teamsters Michael Ross and John Fidler. Mark Harrington, the local’s former secretary-treasurer, pleaded guilty to the same charges in December and is serving six months of home confinement and two years of probation. He’s also been ordered to pay a $10,000 fine and restitution of $24,000.
Kelly Robb contributed to this report.