For the past 12 seasons of Top Chef, host Padma Lakshmi has continued to be stylish and sophisticated, without any pretension. Each week we’ve seen her introduce challenges, judge dishes and politely demand contestants to “please pack your knives and go.” But there’s much more to this woman when the cameras stop rolling. From comfort foods to stormy relationships and chronic illnesses, Padma reveals it all with gusto in her new memoir, Love, Loss and What We Ate.
Released on International Women’s Day, Padma’s book offers readers an honest memoir of her life, using food to frame her story.
Padma’s Favourite Foods
Padma’s memories of growing up in India are interspersed with some of her favourite recipes; yogurt rice, kumquat and ginger chutney, and kichidi, a rice and lentil porridge. All these and more are sprinkled throughout her memoir.
Padma explains she was on a lacto-vegetarian Hindu Brahmin diet in her teens, so she found it hard to eat American foods at first, sticking only to rice. At one point, Padma even dubbed herself the “most practiced rice aficionado.”
As an adult, cooking became the best way to mask her insecurities. At dinner parties with former husband Salman Rushdie and his intellectual friends, Padma writes she was nervous to speak freely and instead spent time in the kitchen keeping her hands busy. She would often get lost in cooking, making three times the amount of food, without having any room to store leftovers.
Padma’s Personal Struggles
Growing up in America, you’re exposed to a lot of different cultures, and unfortunately, Padma struggled with her identity at a young age. She even went so far as to change her name to Angelique to Americanize herself. She writes candidly about getting egged and being called names by other girls in school because of her ethnicity. As Padma got older, she felt like less of an outsider and eventually became comfortable in her own skin.
Padma also reveals her experience with endometriosis, a painful uterine disorder in which tissue grows outside the organ. For years she hid this condition from her family, still in denial even after being rushed to the hospital due to chronic pain. Padma writes that she did not want to be defined by her condition, one that 10 percent of women have. Endometriosis is one of three major causes of infertility, so in 2009, Padma launched The Endometriosis Foundation of America, an organization focused on increasing awareness and education of the disorder.
Padma’s On-Set Concoctions
With Top Chef being the sister show to Project Runway, it made sense for a model to host the show — but Padma always strives to be more than just a pretty face. In her memoir, she cites instances where she felt inferior to the accomplished chefs who appear as judges. But lucky for her, it didn’t take long to make her mark in the culinary world.
Shooting a television show is a lot of ‘hurry up and wait,’ and during that waiting, Padma would eat. She eventually taught many colleagues how to make her childhood classic: chili cheese toast. And because she constantly tastes food on the show, Padma created a special drink to cleanse her digestive pipes. She calls it the Cranberry Drano. It includes cranberry juice, clear fiber powder and one pack of Emergen-C with hot green tea and honey. We’ll cheers to that!
Love, Loss and What We Ate is available in bookstores now.