7 Things You May Not Have Known About Padma Lakshmi
Think you know everything there is to know about Top Chef host and author Padma Lakshmi? Think again. During a recent talk with journalist Aaliya Zaveri at the Time Inc. building in New York City, the lifestyle guru chatted about what it was like growing up straddling two cultures, living with endometriosis, and the trials and tribulations of writing her memoir, Love, Loss, and What We Ate ($16; amazon.com) and cookbook, The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs: An Essential Guide to the Flavors of the World ($24; amazon.com). Her first piece of advice? “I would never recommend that anyone publish two books in a year,” she said. Read on for more words of wisdom.
1. Every one of her childhood milestones revolved around the kitchen.
“You weren’t allowed to touch the spices, you weren’t allowed to turn on the stove until you went to middle school,” Lakshmi recalled of her grandmother's kitchen in India. “Only when you were going to college were you really allowed to learn how to cook, in case you were going to starve.”
2. Halloween has a special place in her heart.
Lakshmi first came to the states on Halloween night. “All these kids were dressed up begging for candy,” she said. “To me, it made no sense. Now, Halloween is the most sacred day in the Lakshmi household. We start planning our costumes the day after Valentine’s Day.”
3. Her daughter wants to be a pop star.
In addition to listening to a roster of classical Indian musicians, Lakshmi's daughter, Krishna, takes carnatic vocal classes (a style of music that originates in southern India, where Lakshmi is from) four days a week. “It’s not because she’s committed to being Indian, it’s because she wants to be a pop star,” Lakshmi quipped.
4. Her new cookbook is a love letter to a food store.
Lakshmi’s relationship with the New York-based speciality food store Kalustyan's is long-standing. “I used to try to cook for my mom and she would take me on Saturdays to Kalustyan’s, and when I got back to New York after college and had my first apartment, they were really a surrogate family to me,” she said. “They taught me everything about spices.” The spice masters also provided all of the ingredients featured in Spices & Herbs.
5. Padma Lakshmi is not her real name.
It’s Padma Parvati Lakshmi Vaidynathan, although she went by “Angelique” until college (“I cringe to think about that,” she admitted). When she officially became an American citizen, she legally changed her name to Padma Lakshmi in honor of her mother, who shortened her name to Vidjaya Lakshmi, after divorcing Padma’s father. “I am my mother’s daughter, and she deserves to have me take her last name. It was a personally political thing for me to do.”
6. She co-founded the Endometriosis Foundation of America.
The Endometriosis Foundation of America raises awareness about endometriosis, an inflammatory disease that affects a woman’s fertility and physical health. While Lakshmi suffered from the disease, which causes intense cramping, among a host of uncomfortable physical symptoms, since the age of 13, she was only diagnosed at 36.
7. She was a theater major in college.
Before she started her career in food, Lakshmi tried her hand at acting. “I am very fortunate to be on TV for a decade now and not be playing an ethnic role,” says Lakshmi. “That was a big thing for me.”