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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 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 details.

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."

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