From a small-town Tamil girl to becoming an international sensation – this is Padma Lakshmi’s storySanjana Ray
“It doesn't matter how precisely the onion is cut as long as the person chewing it is happy.”
Padma Lakshmi has set goals for foodies across the world, managing to eat her fill while looking like a Goddess. Famously known for being the face of the famous Emmy-winning reality cooking series Top Chef, Padma Lakshmi also has her own South-Asian inspired design line and is an active campaigner against endometriosis. Along with juggling these three vastly different careers, she is also the proud author of four bestsellers and previously had a long, drawn-out career as a model, with a few appearances in some exotic Hollywood and Bollywood movies.
But Padma Lakshmi’s main job is that of being a single mother to her six-year old daughter, Krishna.
Padma Lakshmi is famous for being one of the first Indian women to stand out among the South-Asian diaspora in the West, where she spent the majority of her growing years. Although her place of birth will always be Chennai, Padma Lakshmi bid a temporal farewell to her hometown as her parents divorced when she was very young. Although she lived with her grandparents for a few years and picked up on the traditional Tamil tradition, she soon left the country to go live with her remarried mother and stepfather in New York and then Los Angeles.
On one of her visits back home, she met with a horrific car accident which broke her pelvis and shattered her upper-right arm. The irony is that this tragedy took place shortly after she had recovered from an illness and when she was on her way back from the temple to thank the Almighty for her miraculous recovery. The incident left a seven-inch scar along her – her ‘war-wound’ as she has often called it and one that she wears with pride to remind herself that she is a fighter, through and through.
Graduating from Clark University, Massachusetts, Padma Lakshmi got her big break when was discovered by a modelling scout in a Madrid Bar while she was studying abroad in Spain. Pretty soon, she was wearing labels like Armani, Versace and Ralph Lauren on the ramp, and the stage was just unravelling for her imminent success. “I was the first Indian model to have a career in Paris, Milan and New York,” she had once said in an interview.
Through fittings and packed schedules, she never forgot her infinite love for food. Using her acclaimed publicity, she published Easy Exotic, a cookbook containing a collection of low-calorie recipes incorporating the flavours of Southeast Asia. This was in 1999. In her carefully planned out strategy, she used two selling points. First, she used her own brand image to highlight low-fat recipes from around the world. Then, she focused on the ‘exotic’ nature of the Southeast Asian recipes.
Although she was side-lined to a certain degree when she fell in love and married Salman Rushdie, Padma Lakshmi claims that it was the most insightful eight years of her life, where she experienced a consuming partnership, ego-clashes and consequent heartbreak simultaneously. The press didn’t help matters, with some even calling her a “gold-digger” for marrying a famous, successful man who was twenty years her senior. She laughed this away by publicly stating, “I wouldn't be working five jobs today if that were true.” In 2007, the two divorced after eight years of being together.
Meanwhile the success of her book Easy Exotic managed to land her a spot on the Food Network, with Top Chef premiering in March, 2006. The show’s popularity is proved by the fact that it is currently running on its thirteenth season, and it is this that got her much acclaim in the television world. She also published a new cookbook, Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet, which quickly emerged as a must-have.
Padma Lakshmi then decided to turn her attention towards merchandise, and in 2009 launched her first line of jewellery under the name Padma. She also released her own line of spices, teas and bakewear. In this sense, Padma Lakshmi was successful in creating a diversified brand-image for herself, increasing both her brand’s value and also her individual one.
As she turns 46 and seems to grow younger by the day, we’d like to stop for a minute and appreciate the efforts of a little Tamil girl who decided to play her best with the cards dealt to her, a woman who managed to make it from the streets of Chennai to becoming an international sensation. Happy birthday, Padma!