Padma Lakshmi

It's all gravy for the tasty Top Chef host.

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Illustration: Rob Kelly

As the host of Bravo's hit show Top Chef, Padma Lakshmi has had to endure plenty of food-related indignities at the hands of the contestants. But the 37-year-old model, actor, cookbook author and New York resident is especially irked when professionals get it wrong. Her pet peeve? "I hate when restaurants name every single ingredient in the title of the dish!" she says. "It's always nestled in this, embedded in that or topped with a foam of the other. And by the end of it you're like, 'Dude, I didn't ask you for the recipe!'"

To cap off our annual Eat Out Awards issue, we called up Lakshmi to gab about grub and Klingons.

If you could eat at only one New York restaurant for the rest of your life, which would you pick?
Oh, my God—I can't say.

Because you know a lot of big-name chefs now and don't want to get in trouble?
Yes. It's true. I try to stay as neutral as I can because I want them to come on my show!

You could be safe and just say McDonald's.
Yeah, but that would be a lie. I don't mind certain fast foods—it's just that my idea of fast food is eating shawarma at four in the morning down in the Village. But I don't like McDonald's, I'm sorry. I'm not lovin' it.

You're a foodie. How does your thinking differ from a nonfoodie's?
Someone who's not a foodie will tell you where to shop in Paris. Someone who is a foodie will tell you where to eat. Although I could tell you both because I'm also a fashionista.

In our office, there's a lunch club that shares healthy food, and a rival club dedicated to eating complete garbage. Whose side are you on?
I would have to be shuffling between the two. I like beautiful organic produce and meats and stuff, but you know, I want to eat fun, delicious, crappy food, too. I'm an omnivore. There's space in my tummy for everyone—I mean everything.

You're not a cannibal, are you, Padma?
[Laughs] No! Anyway, I'm not a food snob. I'm just a glutton.

Do you have any guilty food pleasures?
I love Pringles! I can finish a whole can in one sitting. It's a weakness of mine.

You must eat a ton while you're taping Top Chef. Why aren't you fat?
Because I exercise a lot. I do gain weight—about 12 to 15 pounds in seven weeks of taping. I'm lucky, though. I'm tall, so you can't tell. And over the course of three seasons my wardrobist and I have learned that we need to have skinny clothes and fat clothes.

Your catchphrase on the show is "Pack your knives and go." Ever think about using "Stow your haughty attitude and go" instead?
Right! Or I could say, "Turn in your toque and go." Except they don't wear toques on the show.

Okay—here's my version of the Quickfire Challenge. Question one: What's up with gravy?
I love gravy. I live for gravy!

Question two: Do you own a gravy boat?
Yes. I have a Tiffany gravy boat and a Royal Doulton gravy boat.

Cool. Last question: Is it okay to bathe oneself in gravy?
Sure. Gravy is the best moisturizer. It has a lot of fat content, and anything fatty is good for your skin.

Nice job. I must inform you that I am a bit of a Trekkie. You killed on Star Trek: Enterprise!
I can always tell what people's interests are and what weird eccentricities they have based on what they know me from. If they're sci-fi buffs, they know me as Princess Kaitaama from Star Trek. If they're foodies, they know me from Top Chef. If they're anorexic, they know me from my modeling career. And if they're just fond of bad movies, they know me from Glitter.

You get a lot of marriage proposals from Trekkies, don't you?
Yeah, I get some pretty weird ones. But luckily, I have people for that.

You have people to rebuff nerds who want to marry you in ceremonies conducted entirely in Klingon?
Actually, I would kind of be impressed by that.

Top Chef airs Wednesdays at 10pmon Bravo.

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