Recipe for Success: Padma Lakshmi
The Top Chef host dishes on food, fame, and her struggles with endometriosis -- plus she shares two delectable recipes.
Padma's Food Memories continued...
Her love of food is what set her television career in motion in 1998.
Lakshmi had been modeling around the world since 1992 for designers such as
Roberto Cavalli and Ralph Lauren when she met movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who
had recently set up a literary arm of Miramax. Together, they came up with the
idea for a cookbook, Easy Exotic: Low-Fat Recipes From Around the World,
because "everyone wants to know what a model eats," she says.
Though Lakshmi acknowledges nobody expected the book to soar, it surprised
them all by winning the 1999 International Versailles Event for best cookbook
by a first-time writer. After a promotional appearance for the book on the Food
Network, she was offered her own show, Padma's Passport, where she
cooked cuisine from exotic cultures across the globe. A few years later she met
with Bravo execs, who were developing a reality cooking-competition show.
"Initially I don't think she wanted to do it," says Andy Cohen, Bravo's
senior vice president of original programming and development. "I think she
thought, 'A reality cooking-competition show? Huh?'" But they simply had to
have her. "We fell in love. She's so beautiful, so exotic, and so passionate
about food," he says. They convinced Lakshmi to come on board as host of Top
Chef during its second season, and later her second cookbook, Tangy,
Tart, Hot and Sweet: A World of Recipes for Every Day, hit the shelves.
Next up for Lakshmi? She just signed a development deal with NBC to produce
and appear in a food-themed half-hour comedy, but it's too early for
Cooking at Home With Padma
Food remains the throughline of her career -- and her personal passion.
Although Lakshmi, who was briefly married to acclaimed, British-born Indian
novelist Salman Rushdie, has traveled the world in pursuit of exotic dishes,
she often craves homespun, simple foods. For a solo dinner, she might whip up
an omelet with sautéed mushrooms and spinach, flavored with thyme, oregano, and
fresh red chilies. "Plus a beefsteak tomato sliced thick with some fresh olive
oil," she says. Her other dinner staple is what she calls her one-pot wonders
("I don't like doing dishes.")
She also treats herself to the occasional weekend bed picnic. "A perfect
Sunday would be to work out at the gym, come home, take a bath, get back into a
pair of crisp, clean pajamas, and tuck myself into bed with something to read,
a tray of sandwiches, and a big pot of tea." And while her choices of picnic
reading material are sophisticated -- The New York Times, The
Atlantic, Italian Vogue -- her sandwich selections are deliciously
simple: BLT, grilled cheese, and egg salad.
"I was rushing around all morning and didn't have time for breakfast," she
says, looking at her plate. Every savory morsel of orecchiette is gone. Eating
heartily is a much-earned reward for her no-excuses gym time. While there, she
lifts weights and does cardio -- the StairMaster, the treadmill (which she
adjusts to a steep incline), or the elliptical machine.
Her regimen certainly works. Just take a look at the evidence in a nude
Allure magazine photo shoot last May.
Why bare all? "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 -- 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."