Bravo's Emmy Award-winning hit cooking competition Top Chef kicked off its sixth season last month, this time under the bright lights of Las Vegas. And once again, model-turned-cookbook-author and now television star Padma Lakshmi is co-host (along with chef Tom Colicchio), both of whom have attracted Emmy Award attention in their own right as 2009 nominees for best reality TV host.
Being host means judging -- and tasting -- hundreds of delicious dishes whipped up by the show’s contestants over 14 calorie-rich episodes. With so much focus on food, how does this longtime foodie manage to stay so svelte, slim, and healthy? Lakshmi’s secrets may surprise and inspire you.
1. She eats what she wants.
The biggest news? Lakshmi isn't afraid of carbs. She eats pasta. And bread. In fact, one of her favorite Top Chef meals was a classic Spanish dish of fideos (very thin capellini-like noodles) with clams and saffron, served up by season 2 Top Chef winner Ilan Hall. Lakshmi thoroughly enjoys other treats, by the way, including grilled cheese and, yes, bacon.
2. She works out.
Turns out, what the experts say about diet andexercise being key to weight control is true. Lakshmi works out a lot. "I've been to the gym eight times in the last 10 days," she says. "I would rather spend half my life at the gym and eat whatever I want than sit on my ass and starve.” Gym time isn't slacking-off time, of course; Lakshmi says her workout routine includes lifting weight and generous amounts of cardio on the StairMaster, treadmill, or elliptical machine.
3. She’s comfortable with her body, "flaws" and all.
Gorgeous Lakshmi may look perfect, but like the rest of us, she carries some body (and body image) scars. A car accident at 14 left a seven-inch cross-hatched scar along her right arm, which for years made it difficult for her to get booked for modeling in summer shows. When legendary photographer Helmut Newton told her he actually liked the scar because it made her "look like someone with a past," Lakshmi stopped feeling ashamed. "When someone of that caliber in your field plants that seed," she says, "it's a powerful message."
4. She doesn't fight her love of food.
Lakshmi has loved cooking -- and eating -- since she was a child. "I've always had a well-developed palate," she says. "Even as a toddler I was rooting around the kitchen, tasting different things." She learned to cook at a young age. Growing up in India, New York, and Los Angeles, she says, "I was always hanging at the hem of whatever maternal relative was in the kitchen, helping shell peas and peel potatoes." Lakshmi turned her food passion into a cookbook, Easy Exotic: Low-Fat Recipes from Around the World, which led to her first TV show on the Food Network, Padma’s Passport. The rest is Top Chef history.
5. She indulges in simple, homespun food.
Despite the four-star gourmet meals she has sampled on Top Chef (and in her travels around the world), Lakshmi prefers traditional comfort food at home. For a solo dinner, she might whip up an omelet with sauteed mushrooms and spinach, flavored with thyme, oregano, and fresh red chilies; a one-pot meal ("I don't like doing dishes"); or a tray of simple sandwiches (think BLT, grilled cheese, and egg salad). Keeping it simple saves on calories and focuses on wholesome ingredients. Try one of Lakshmi’s one-pot wonders: Braised Beef or Lamb With Tomato and Cumin.
6. She accepts who she is.
Lakshmi absolutely doesn't believe that the perfect female form is that of a stick-thin 18-year-old. That's why she posed sans clothes for Allure's May 2009 issue."I thought it was a really good forum to show women that you can be curvy and you can be healthy and you can eat,” she says. "Those things are not exclusive to each other, and you can have a beautiful body when you're in your 30s. It may not be the body you had in your 20s, but it can be just as elegant and beautiful and sensual and feminine."
Beauty, she adds, "does come in all colors and shapes and forms. And the thing that makes us not look like everybody else is very important.”
These six tips add up to a balanced, healthy approach to nutrition and eating (and yes, some serious exercise) for this lifelong foodie. The bottom line? Lakshmi can say yes to every morsel she samples in every Top Chef show this season - and inspires us to do the same as we watch at home.