Padma Lakshmi is stunningly beautiful, but she's a lot of other things, too: a mother; writer; well-respected food critic; and host of Bravo's hit reality cooking series Top Chef for 10 years running. Raised by a single mother, she's also a strong advocate for women's rights, so it doesn't come as a huge surprise that her debut memoir, Love, Loss and What We Ate ($18; amazon.com) was released yesterday, on International Women's Day.
"As women, we need to learn certain methodologies men have used to keep us down," Lakshmi recently told InStyle over the phone. "It's the same as with any other minority. Young girls should never feel reluctant to say, 'I can do anything that a man can.'"
Below, we talk to the veteran TV personality about the inspiring women in her life, her battle with endometriosis, and how she stays fit while consuming thousands of calories a day.
Going from modeling to food isn’t a typical career change. How did that happen?
Cooking has always been a part of my life. I used to carry a spiral notebook every time I went to visit relatives, and I would actively collect recipes from everyone in my family. As for the modeling, models are freaks of nature. It's not normal to be 5'10" and weigh 120 pounds. I had a fast metabolism, and I was very fortunate that I never really had to workout until my mid-20s.
You’ve called yourself a "super taster." What does that mean, exactly?
I have additional taste buds that other people don't have. A researcher at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle told me while I was visiting with my daughter, Krishna. Basically, I can pick out different nuances and flavors that the average person may not be able to detect.
What foods do you like to make at home for your daughter, who's 6?
Krishna's a great eater, and she prides herself on being a good cook, too. For the most part, our diet is plant-based. Half the week we’re having Indian food with lentils or beans, and she loves avocado. She also makes a mean fruit salad with plums, apples, salt, pepper, and lemon juice.
How do you maintain a svelte figure with all the food you eat on the show?
I have to consume about 7,000 or 8,000 calories a day to do my job, so I usually suspend my own needs for the duration of the season and then go into detox afterward, where l cut out meat, wheat, dairy—except for nonfat yogurt and cottage cheese—all sugar and sweets, all fried foods, and alcohol for about 10-12 weeks and go to the gym six or seven days a week. I love to box.
You've been a vocal feminist for years. Was it a strategic decision to release your book on International Women's Day?
It was definitely a happy coincidence. This whole month is important because it’s also endometriosis month—well, if you have endometriosis, every month is endometriosis month—but we did want to make a statement.
Who are some of the inspiring women in your life?
Gloria Steinem is hugely inspiring. Women of my generation can sometimes forget how hard our mothers worked for basic rights. My mother had far fewer resources compared to what I have, yet she still managed to work full-time and get food on the table. Frankly, I'm shocked some women hesitate to call themselves feminists. I don't know any woman who wants less compensation for the same work. One of the reasons I feel that endometriosis isn't getting significant attention is because it's a women's issue.
You recently wrote an essay about your struggle with endometriosis for Lena Dunham's email newsletter, Lenny Letter. Do you have any advice for young girls who may be combating the illness?
I just want to get the word out that there is treatment. A lot of us are deferring motherhood because we're pursuing our careers and want to be as successful as our male counterparts, so if you haven't totally explored your body, sometimes it may be too late. There are certain things in our biology that we can't control, but we can deal with them in a much more preventative way. I'm immensely grateful to [Lena] for being so vocal about it. I wish I knew a Lena Dunham in my 20s, because then maybe I would've gotten diagnosed earlier.