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    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

    Today's main course is quite the opposite. After the waiter brings Lakshmi her orecchiette, she adds a dash of red pepper and dives into the food. And her memories of food. "I've always had a well-developed palate. 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, "I was always hanging at the hem of whatever maternal relative was in the kitchen, helping shell peas and peel potatoes."

    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 details.

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