Padma Lakshmi: 'I Finally Don't Care What People Think of Me'
Cookbook author, actress, model, television host, and producer Padma Lakshmi discusses her new book, Love, Loss, and What We Ate, a memoir that traces her path from an immigrant childhood to a complicated life in front of the camera. After a short reading from her book, Lakshmi was interviewed on stage by producer, curator, and educator DJ Rekha.
"I'm 45 years old and I finally don't care what people think of me. And it feels really, really good."
So said the model, actress, and television host Padma Lakshmi during a funny and irreverent appearance at Asia Society in New York on Thursday night. Lakshmi was on hand to promote her new memoir Love, Loss, and What We Ate, a candid look at her passion for cooking, high-profile romantic relationships, and lengthy struggle with endometriosis.
The event began with Lakshmi reading an excerpt from her book that discussed her childhood in Madras, India, an upbringing that sparked her lifelong passion for the country's cuisine. Later, in conversation with the musician and curator DJ Rekha — the two had become friends after Rekha performed at Lakshmi's wedding — Lakshmi spoke about her subsequent years as a "latchkey kid" in 1970s New York. It was there that the one-time vegetarian made a life-changing discovery.
"I encountered the bacon cheeseburger. It turned me on to the dark side," she said.
Lakshmi spent much of the 1990s as a successful model in Europe and the United States, but eventually grew dissatisfied from earning a living based mostly on her appearance.
"Sometimes in life, you just want more," she said. "Intellectually, spiritually, and practically."
In her thirties, Lakshmi's passion for food turned into a new career. In 2006, she became host of the Emmy-winning Bravo series Top Chef — a position she still maintains today. But her professional success coincided with a tumultuous period in her personal life. After a high-profile marriage to the novelist Salman Rushdie came to an end in 2007, often painful details of their relationship surfaced in the press. Today, Lakshmi is philosophical about the experience.
"I spent eight years with Salman, and there was much love between us. It just didn't work out," she said.
Following the conversation with DJ Rekha, an audience member asked Lakshmi what she hoped her legacy would be. Laksmhi cited her work promoting awareness of endometriosis, a painful uterine condition that afflicted her for 23 years — and is suffered by 250 million women worldwide.
Throughout the evening, Lakshmi stressed her passion for food — a subject that she characterized as a "physical metaphor for life."
"Food has changed for me as life has changed."