Multi-talents of Padma Lakshmi

paMILPITAS, CA: Who is the real Padma Lakshmi? Is she the model, the actress, the ex-wife of the well known writer, Salman Rushdie; the superb chef, the host and judge of the TV show, “Top Chef” on Bravo, founder of Endofound which supports the cause of endometriosis, a dedicated and loving mother, daughter and granddaughter….all of the above?

This is what the audience was there to find out at the Watermark event to showcase Padma as she introduced her new book, “Love, Loss, and What We Ate”, as she sat down to frankly discuss aspects of her life with Nithya Ruff of SanDisk, in Milpitas. SanDisk’s Global Innovation Network (WIN), sponsors women to make meaningful contributions in the society. They sponsored this event for Watermark, who have conducted over fifty workshops, conferences, leadership forums each year to advocate women’s issues.

The real Padma Lakshmi, as was soon evident, was a genuine, down to earth person, often with a self deprecating sense of humor, who connected with the audience and engaged in discussing her long struggle with endometriosis, as well as the early trials of striking it on her own as a model.

Padma began the evening by reading a long excerpt from her book which drew the arc from her very padmaprivate struggles and poignant moments to triumph and successes. She talked about partnering with her physicians to freeze her eggs to eventually help her conceive, to her trials and tribulations as a model which she ruefully confessed was no more than being a human mannequin. She laughed at herself recalling how she was a glorified “Vanna White” on an Italian show she co-hosted. Padma candidly admitted that Salmaan Rushdie could not understand her issues with endometriosis and felt rejected by her. Most of all, she joyfully recounted the surprise conception and birth of her daughter despite all odds.

Coupled with this personal success, was the story of her as a rising star chef and host of the wildly successful Bravo show, “Top Chef” on TV. Buoyed by the chain of good fortune, she took the next bold step of branching out into a jewelry and clothing line along with a frozen food line of product.

She talks also about the duality and cultural conflict she experiences as an Indian and an American, a feeling familiar to many immigrants, and says her Indian accent comes out every once in a while even now. She remains Indian at heart, idolizing her grandfather, after whom she named her daughter, and endeavored to make him proud of her. It was evident that her grandfather was a large influence on her, and shaped her forward thinking through his own actions.

The spotlight of the evening was the interview by Nithya Ruff, the president of WIN at SanDisk, who asked some open ended, probing questions about Padma’s life and work. Clearly, on top of everyone’s mind was what does this supermodel eat on her show, and stays slim, despite gorging on rich foods. Padma shared that four weeks of gourmet indulgence requires ten to twelve weeks of food detox with severe restrictions to get her back to size. She also sized herself up more as a journalist who also wrote about food, and claimed to having a “food imposter syndrome” on the show! Of course, she also boxes 3-4 times a week, and lifts weights to maintain muscle mass.

Nithya then inquired about how Padma manages her own brand and career, and what image she chooses to project. Padma was frank in saying she does not regard herself as a brand, and did not have a grand plan to brand herself. She claims to have stumbled upon the Frozen Rice idea quite by accident, as she made rice pilaf for herself and her daughter. She summed herself up as “someone who does things to help people’ lives better”, be it to make them feel beautiful, curl up with a book, feed their family, or be entertained. Clearly, serendipity often played a role in shaping her successful life.

padma-1When asked about the idea of beauty changing in the world, of being a brown girl in a white world, she revealed that she had to start at the bottom rung of the ruthless modeling business. She also stuck to her ideals and refused a lucrative gig which required nudity. She credits Helmut Newton, the photographer for discovering her, and wanting to photograph her because of the scar on her arm, not in spite of it and thus changed her perception of herself.
Nithya and Padma concluded the session with a discussion of how it takes almost a decade to diagnose endometriosis, and the current treatment options available. Padma’s organization, Endofund educates girls and boys at schools in their science classes, to increase awareness. She also answered quite frankly that a sense of humor kept her going through the unbearable discomfort of her diagnosis.

The audience was intrigued at the many hats she wears, to which she responded that the trigger points for her reinventions and transitions was ……necessity! Flowing like the water, finding her way, pushing against an open door, heeding the advice of her mentors, and paying close attention to the people she admired.

Padma’s candid and open remarks, where she joked with the audience, laughed at herself, spanned the arc of her own life including the trials and triumphs endeared her to the audience in a very real way. We look forward to the next book in the works, an encyclopedia of spices and herbs…showcasing her true love of food and heritage.

Archana Asthana
India Post News Service

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