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‘Top Chef’ host Padma Lakshmi talks about her memoir, ‘Love, Loss, and What We Ate’

Padma Lakshmi Inez and Vinoodh

In her new memoir, Padma Lakshmi writes that she always recalls two things from important days in her life: what she wore and what she ate. The longtime host of “Top Chef” covers both in “Love, Loss, and What We Ate” as she writes about her transition from model and actress to food writer and TV host. She also addresses her marriage to author Salman Rushdie, her childhood in New York and India, and her struggle with endometriosis. Lakshmi, 45, has previously written several cookbooks. This book is also illustrated with recipes. “It was supposed to be much more about food. But in writing it, I just got drawn deeper and deeper into the memoir part,” Lakshmi says.

Q. Did writing about food make it easier to revisit some of the more difficult memories in the book?


A. I knew that in order to write a good book I would have to be very frank and forthright. I do believe that food is very transportive. Our emotional memories are very strongly connected to dishes because of emotional memory being close to where our sense of taste and smell are located in the brain.

Q. You’ve always straddled cultures. How did that influence your interest in food?

A. Growing up, I had two very different existences. When I was in New York, I was pretty much a latchkey child in the 1980s. My mother was single and worked full time. Then there was another completely different existence during the three months of the year when I went to my grandmother’s house in India in the summer. In that case, there were lots of women cooking. You paid your dues and when you got to a certain age, the older women would let you have the right to do the more complicated tasks in the kitchen. But I did see and hear and smell and touch a whole hell of a lot just by virtue of being at their elbows.


Q. You write about being a supertaster. Have you always known that?

A. I discovered it at the science museum in Seattle a few years ago. I was there filming and I had an hour or two to kill with my daughter. I always thought that I had a good sense of taste. It wasn’t my cooking technique that allowed me to do what I do. It was more that I could taste the different notes individually. People who are supertasters are able to decipher notes that other people can’t because they have extra taste buds — sort of like having perfect pitch or dogs being able to hear a whistle that people can’t detect. For a long time while I was doing “Top Chef,” I did feel a little bit of a fish out of water or feel insecure because I’m not a chef and I haven’t worked at Food & Wine. Why was I there? Now I guess I know — because of my palate.

Q. That discovery must have given you extra cachet at Judges’ Table.

A. I don’t know about that. But I think that’s why my young palate was so willing to stimulate those different taste buds and discover the world.

Q. When you were in college at Clark University in Worcester, did you visit Boston often?


A. I did. I love Boston. I really enjoyed the season we shot there on “Top Chef.” Boston, like Seattle, was one of the few cities where I got to have a corporate apartment rather than just a hotel room. I went shopping a lot. I went to the farmers’ market and Sofra for spices, and also for their prepared foods. I went to Formaggio Kitchen and I loved that. Just eating my way through Boston from Ken Oringer’s Toro to all Barbara Lynch’s restaurants. I put on so much weight.

Q. During “Top Chef” filming, you make something called “Cranberry Drano.” Could you explain it?

A. It’s just a drink that keeps you as clean as possible when you’re working those crazy hours and ingesting that much food. It’s not like you’re just eating a heavy lasagna. You’re eating lasagna and chateaubriand and roasted duck with cherries and foie gras. At the end of any given day on set, you feel like a restaurant dumpster. So if I drink this drink during production, often two or three times a day, it just makes sure my digestive tract is healthy and as clean as possible. It’s 100 percent unsweetened cranberry juice, the pure kind, plus green tea with honey. And then packets of fiber powder just to make sure I’m getting vitamins and everything is moving through me.

Q. After eating crudo so many times on “Top Chef,” do you still enjoy it?

A. You know I like crudo, especially in the summer. But I don’t want to eat it in the desert when there’s no body of water close by, you can’t keep it cold, and it’s sitting in the sun.


Interview was edited and condensed. Michael Floreak can be reached at michaelfloreak@gmail.com