Padma Lakshmi's career has taken her in many directions, but the through-line has been her passion for food. Padma had early success in modeling and acting, becoming known as India's first supermodel (Padma was born in India, moving to the United States when she was a child). In 1999, Padma got her first gigs hosting food shows--The Food Network's Padma's Passport and Planet Food. In 2006, Padma became the host of Bravo's Top Chef, which is now in its 17th season and which she now also executive produces. Padma's newest project is Taste the Nation, a Hulu docuseries that takes her to immigrant and indigineous communities around the United States to explore the ever-evolving American palate.
Padma is also a prolific author, from her cookbooks, Easy Exotic and Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet, to her New York Times bestselling food memoir, Love, Loss, and What We Ate, to the comprehensive The Encyclopedia of Spices & Herbs: An Essential Guide to the Flavors of the World.
Recorded remotely during the coronavirus pandemic, NPR's Ask Me Another host Ophira Eisenberg and house musician Jonathan Coulton talk to Padma about the evolution of American taste, doing improv with her daughter, eating liver ganache on Top Chef, and being a supertaster.
Then, she takes on an Ask Me Another challenge where she helps Ophira and Jonathan figure out what to do with the weird ingredients hidden in their pantries.
On Maintaining The Integrity Of Top Chef
"There's no fraternization between me and the chefs during the contest. The only time I have any interaction with them is in the kitchen or wherever we're filming, with a camera running. Because we never want anybody to think that it's in any way rigged or influenced or even manipulated. Which, for us, it's a really big sticking point, because I know for a fact that a lot of other cooking shows will sometimes bend the rules a little bit, because one person has a better personality, or whatever. And we just don't do that. And I think that's why we've remained the industry standard."
On Being A Supertaster
"I always knew I could sense the different flavors of a dish, and I think that's why I'm a good cook. If you saw me in the kitchen, I'm no technical master, you know. It's just that my palate can detect different flavors, and now I realize why. Because supertasters have extra taste buds that non-supertasters do not have."
On The Evolution Of American Food
"What I've found out is that it's a microcosm of all the world's foods and that it is an ever-evolving organism. That it is shaped by waves and waves of different generations of people that have come here from all over the world. And then, collectively, as a nation, we have a developed taste. We love Italian food. We love Thai food. So, the collective American palate has actually gone way more in the spicy direction since, say, when I was a child in the '70s and '80s. And so, now Americans really do like spicy food. Even if they have mashed potatoes and meatloaf, they will usually put Sriracha on it. And that's brought here by other people."
Heard on Padma Lakshmi: Taste the Nation, From Your Couch.