While Padma Lakshmi is probably best known as the host and judge of the long-running Bravo competition series Top Chef, the 49-year-old has been a food pro for the better part of two decades. (Seriously, so much résumé envy!) She published her first cookbook, Easy Exotic: A Model’s Low-Fat Recipes From Around the World, back in 1999, and two years later, starred on the Food Network cooking show Padma’s Passport.
This month, Padma continues to expand her food empire as the executive producer and host of the Hulu series Taste the Nation, which highlights the immigrant roots of American cuisine. The idea for the show came to Padma in 2016, after she partnered with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on immigration rights.
“I was doing a lot of advocacy work, and I was always referring to my own immigrant story, and I kind of got sick of talking about myself,” says Padma, who immigrated to the U.S. from India at the age of 4. “I started trying to find and understand the stories of other immigrants. This show allows me to get on my soap box without being overtly political and to humanize people that don’t get air time on major television in our country.”
Each episode looks at a different culinary experience—from chop suey to poke—while also digging into the deep cultural roots behind them.
“The biggest takeaway for me is that people tend to connect with their culture through food, especially when they’re very removed from their native culture,” says Padma, who connects with her own Indian roots in the deeply personal episode “Don’t Mind If I Dosa.” “It became a rich vehicle for talking about larger issues.”
Given the concept of her new show—and her years spent globe-trotting—it should come as no surprise that Padma takes great pleasure in regularly cooking dishes from all over the world. But she does adhere to one underlying nutritional philosophy, at least when she’s not filming: She divides her plate in two, with half consisting of fruits and vegetables and the other half consisting of simple carbs, starches, and lean protein like chicken, fish, ground turkey, or veal. (Oh yeah, she leaves room for the occasional slice of bacon, too.)
What does Padma’s diet look like on a daily basis? Here’s what a typical 24 hours of food looks like for her.
Padma kicks off her day with a cup of masala chai, which she buys in bulk from an Indian store in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, New York. She recently gave up doctoring her tea with sweeteners like sugar or honey, but still enjoys a splash of milk. (As the day wears on, she’ll sip anywhere between seven to 10 cups!)
For breakfast, Padma eats a cup of cottage cheese (she also loves yogurt—there’s actually an entire yogurt section in her fridge) with a toasted English muffin and nearly a pint of blackberries or blueberries. Or, sometimes, she’ll nosh on an egg-in-a-hole instead. “It’s literally cutting a hole in a piece of bread, toasting it in the frying pan, and dropping an egg into it. I’ll eat that with pickled jalapeños or some kind of hot sauce.” Yum.
After a workout (her go-to sweat sesh during self-isolation has been jumping rope), Padma eats a lunch of leftovers from the night before. “We cook one fresh meal a day in our home and that’s usually for dinner,” she says. “I purposely cook extra so that I will have enough for lunch.” If you’ve been following her quarantine cooking exploits on Instagram, you’ve probably seen her make some of these dishes, which include chipotle chicken and rice or black-eyed peas over polenta.
Around four or 4:30, Padma whips up a snack for her 10-year-old daughter Krishna—usually something like apples and peanut butter or tomatoes and chips. “I probably eat at least half that plate because it’s just sitting there,” she says.
Another quick eat: A PB&J sandwich made with hot pepper jam. Spicy.
Padma’s home-cooked dinner usually hits the table around seven o’clock. It might be a lasagna one night and lentils and rice in a sautéed vegetable curry with an Indian yogurt sauce called raita the next, she says. If she’s going to an event later in the evening, she treat her daughter to delivery pizza, instead (or at least she did in the pre-COVID days).
Unlike her daughter, Padma isn’t a big dessert person. She’ll nibble on a hunk of chilled dark chocolate from time to time, but she typically prefers the sweet zing of fruits like blackberries, watermelon, pomegranates, and tangerines. “I think the best rule of thumb is to eat foods as close to nature as possible,” she says.
That said, she does admit to a case of the late-night munchies. “I have my midnight nacho night with Krishna probably once or twice a week,” she says. (In her “Fridge Tours” video above, she even explains that she considers her cheese drawer a “pizza, quesadilla, and nachos drawer”). “I can also take down a bag of Lay’s potato chips before the first commercial break of whatever show I’m watching,” she says. Proof, once again, that Padma + food + TV = a winning combo.
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