Photo: Padma Lakshmi, Instagram
On Sunday, March 29, entrepreneurs, food writers, editors, and cooks of all ages came together to celebrate women and food at Cherry Bombe Magazine’s second annual Jubilee conference. Panel topics included heavy hitters such as world hunger and how to give employees with criminal records a second chance … right alongside lighter fare such as the best dishes to serve at a dinner party, and how to make sure fun work stays fun.
Padma Lakshi is the host of Top Chef, has a devoted fan base, and is the author of Easy Exotic: A Model’s Low-Fat Recipes From Around the World, and Tangy, Tart, Hot, and Sweet: A World of Recipes for Every Day. The actress, writer, former model, and television personality is now a mother, too — and an activist on behalf of the Endometriosis Foundation of America, which she co-founded.
Here are a few highlights from her Jubilee talk, titled “Listen to Your Deepest Self.”
On her start in food:
“I went to college not for anything having to do with food. I was a theater student. I studied theater and American literature and I was studying abroad in Spain. I was going to dutifully go back home and find an apartment … But in Spain I started modeling. I figured out I could make a good amount of money pretty much by standing still. People don’t realize this, but my career as a model directly influenced what I do today. I credit my modeling career with my career in food. It allowed me to travel all over the world, taste the world, and explore places I never would have gotten the opportunity to go to, like France, Bali.”
She wasn’t spending her money on designer clothes:
“I was doing fittings with impressive designers, and [would] come out empty-handed, but drop me in the middle of a Middle Eastern spice market and I’m gone for hours. In Italy, they have the casalinga, [which translates as the] housewife store. It was my favorite type of store to go to. I’m not an electrical gadget person, but casalingas have a million ricers and accoutrements you never see in American stores.”
Her cooking inspirations:
“I learned to cook at the elbow of my mother and grandmother, but never ever thought I could have a career in food. I could quote you verbatim from MFK Fisher, Julia Child, even The Frugal Gourmet … My mother, God bless her, would not buy any cable, so I had PBS and so I would watch these episodes of The Frugal Gourmet, and you’d learn so much about a country’s culture through their food.”
On her first TV show:
“We shot the whole season of Padma’s Passport in a week. It was the same period when I got my first role in an American movie, in Glitter. At the time I was much more excited about my movie role than I was about my show on the Food Network. The Food Network was cool, but it was not want I went to school for. At the time I thought, ‘No, acting is my real job, and that’s what I should be striving to get.’”
Why you should listen to that noisy inner child:
“I was more excited about the film role, but I enjoyed myself much more on the set of the food show. All of us, as children, are naturally drawn to what interests us and naturally curious about some things. It took me a long time to really listen to what I wanted to do anyway, which didn’t feel like work. If you can go back to what you did as a child and how you whiled away those hours … It is mandatory for you to be selfish enough to listen to that little child and think, ‘How can I get closer to that’?”
Because sometimes you’ll be the only one who recognizes your true calling:
“All those [days] when [my family and I] were already plotting dinner while we were clearing away the plates for lunch, nobody ever said to me, ‘Why don’t you think about a career in food?’ I’m 44 … in my generation of women, no one was encouraged to have a career in food … We just weren’t!”
On how Top Chef came about:
“It wasn’t until 10 years later that I was offered this job on Top Chef. The first season, I turned it down at the time. I thought it was a great opportunity but … it wasn’t the world it is today. At the time my acting career was finally opening up for me. [There was a] miniseries for BBC, and I’d already said I was going to do it and said yes to the director … At that time standing where I was, 35, 34, it felt to me like that was a better opportunity. I didn’t think it was right to tell director I was going to do it, then not. I’m sure … it will come back to me. Later that year, Bravo called and said, ‘Are you ready now?’”
On feeling insecure about her foodie credibility:
“I think the biggest thing that moved the needle for me was to give myself permission to learn on the job and think, ‘That’s OK.’… On the first season of Top Chef, I suffered from … imposter syndrome. I didn’t have [restaurant cooking experience] … I thought, I’ll just be a really good host. Somewhere along, there, and he probably doesn’t even know it and we’re friends, I heard Eric Ripert say to another chef, ‘No, Padma has a really sensitive palate, like one of the most sensitive palates of anyone I’ve ever met.’ I held on to that. Any time I felt insecure or insufficient — which I did a lot on that set — all I had to do was rely on what I did know rather than what I didn’t know.
All of us have that little child in us. The more we can harness that child the more we can find out … where we’re in our groove. It’s really where we belong. That’s when you’re feeding that person inside.”
Editor’s note: Yahoo Food Editor in Chief Kerry Diamond is co-founder of Cherry Bombe Magazine.
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