As a host and judge on Top Chef, Padma Lakshmi has been required to taste a lot of strange dishes. “I’m not really a fan of offal,” she tells Closer. “The duck testicles in the D.C. season was one I really fretted over!” Fortunately, the majority of the other dishes she’s had to eat on the Bravo food competition series are downright delicious — or at least a lot easier to get down. Since becoming a television star on Top Chef in 2006, the former fashion model has been able to indulge her own epicurean interests. Padma, 51, has published two cookbooks, a memoir, and is the creator and host of the Hulu series Taste the Nation, which puts the spotlight on the food and traditions of immigrant communities all over the United States.
The divorced mom of daughter Krishna, 12, Padma recently entered a partnership with DAH!, an Indian-inspired natural foods company. “I’m excited to share this with the American public because it may be something new for them,” she says. “And it’s just plain delicious!
How did your upbringing prepare you for a career in food television?
“Food was such a big part of my life ever since I was small. Some of my fondest memories are of cooking with the women in my family, especially my grandmother. She taught me a lot about building flavors, but also how important it is to experience food with all of your senses. That’s helped me a lot in my career.”
You immigrated to the United States from India at age 4. What did you want to be when you grew up?
“I had always wanted to be an actor and a writer. I studied theater and American literature in college, and I’ve done some acting jobs here and there like 30 Rock, Star Trek and some historical dramas, but my career in food has taken all my attention the last 15 years! I’ve been really lucky.”
Top Chef is currently in its 19th season. How do you keep the show feeling fresh?
“We film Top Chef in a new city every season, which helps a lot. We always think about regional specialties and local chefs when planning our challenges to make the season specific to where we are. My producers do a really good job of coming up with ways to test the chefs and keep them on their toes. People don’t realize how varied regional American food is and how many influences play into eating local and what that really means.”
Do you have an American city you love to eat in most?
“New York City, although Houston is a close second. I ate really well there on Top Chef!”
Will you be back with another season of Taste the Nation?
“Yes! We’re currently in production for Season 2. I don’t want to divulge much, but I will say I am really excited for the stories and communities that will be featured. Stay tuned on my socials for a glimpse at where we might be filming!”
What is one of the earliest dishes you learned how to make?
“When I was a latch-key kid growing up in New York City, I’d doctor up canned soup as an after-school meal or snack with whatever spices or herbs I could get my hands on. That’s one of the first things I really cooked for myself.”
Have you passed on your love of cooking to your daughter, Krishna?
“Yes, she’s pretty independent in the kitchen, too. Once she made fried chicken all by herself! Also, a while back when I wasn’t feeling well, Krishna made a dish of couscous, vegetables and sriracha butter that was exactly what I wanted to eat.”
What do you like to cook together?
“Our household is all about the late night snacks! One of our favorite things to make is midnight nachos. Thin, crispy chips with lots of melty cheese topped with this spicy, delicious homemade tomatillo salsa. Krishna can make a mean plate of nachos.”
What is the best part about being a mom?
“I love hanging out with my daughter. She’s such good company! Nobody can make me laugh the way she does.”
What do you do for fun?
“We go roller-skating together. I’d really like to become better at it. I’ve been skating my whole life, but I can only go forwards and backwards. I want to learn how to do tricks, and I’m hoping as the craze catches on more rinks will open up.”
When you meet fans, what do they most often ask you?
“How I stay relatively slim while eating so much on both Top Chef and Taste the Nation. The short answer is: a lot of hard work!”
How did your collaboration with DAH! come about?
“As you can imagine, I’m sent so many food products, but this one really stood out to me, so the rest happened very organically. I really liked the idea of creating and building flavors, and I thought it was a nice partnership. I’m so proud to collaborate with the wonderful people at DAH! on a brand-new lassi flavor inspired by my book: Tomato With Mixed Berries.”
What else is special about DAH!?
“I love the richness of the yogurt and how decadent it feels. I was really impressed by the velvety mouthfeel when you drink it, but I like that it still has the tang I associate with Indian yogurt. I was also so surprised to see how much kids loved it! My daughter and my nephews couldn’t get enough, and I felt good about serving DAH! to them because it doesn’t have much sugar.”
What are you proudest of so far?
“My memoir Love, Loss, and What We Ate, which took me five years to write. Beyond that, creating Taste the Nation is a career high of mine, but being a mother is the most important thing I do.”
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I’d like to keep doing Taste the Nation. I’d also love to have more projects where I’m not in front of the camera so I can give more opportunities to other women, people of color, and other groups that haven’t always had the same chances.