The New Delhi-born, Chennai and California-raised Padma has it all. As a model she has walked the runway for the likes of Ralph Lauren, Sonia Rykiel and Emmanuel Ungaro. As food writer, she has hosted television shows in the US and Europe. There is a parallel acting career developing—she acted opposite Justin Timberlake of Nsync in an Elton John video.
Padma Lakshmi, already known internationally as an actress and award-winning writer, is also the host of the top-rated TV series Top Chef . On the big screen, she joined Aishwarya Rai and Dylan McDermott in film Mistress of Spices. Lakshmi’s previous acting experience has included two Italian films: Caribbeans directed by Lamberto Bava and Sandokan: The Darkness and the Light directed by Sergio Sollima. In 2001 she played Mariah Carey’s diva rival “Sylk” in Glitter, directed by Vondie Curtis-Hall. She also starred in Kaizad Gustad’s Boom in 2003.
Padma Lakshmi is also an accomplished writer and the author of Easy Exotic for Miramax Books for which she won the International Versailles Event for best cookbook by a first time writer. The book is a low calorie, low fat ethnic cookbook and is currently in its second printing in soft back. She has contributed to such magazines as American Vogue, Gourmet and Harper’s Bazaar.
Originally known as the first internationally successful Indian supermodel, Padma Lakshmi started modeling while an exchange student in Spain with Clark University where she received a B.A. in Theater Arts. She was discovered by a modeling agent while sitting in a café and since has appeared in numerous fashion editorials and walked the runway for the likes of Ralph Lauren, Emmanuel Ungaro and Alberta Ferretti and starred in campaigns for Versus and Roberto Cavalli.
In her spare time, Lakshmi, who speaks seven languages including sign language, has also launched a successful line of jewelry that is sold in high-end department stores around the nation. All that while being mother to one-year old daughter, Krishna.
In that busy life – we’ve only mentioned a few of her many endeavors – Lakshmi also found time to co-found a nonprofit, the Endometriosis Foundation of America. As a sufferer of endometriosis, Lakshmi knows first hand how debilitating this little-discussed disease can be.
Padma Lakshmi came from a family where everyone was a professional and academics were given their due importance. “Even though my bank balance kept on growing thanks to my modelling assignments, I did not find myself successful as I felt guilty doing something that had been termed frivolous,” she said.
On the same note, when she was growing up in a home where spices were liberally used in the kitchen, and where her maid Vardma bathed her in fragrant oil, she developed a keen sense of smell and taste. “I know this came from there!” she said affirmatively, “In my cooking show on TV, the other Michelin star chefs may be more technically advanced than me, but in the matters of smell and palate I score over them.”
Padma Lakshmi has a large scar on her arm, which was like a chip on her shoulder, till a photographer declared it interesting. “Either I could treat it as an impediment or be the girl with the scar,” she said. “Either I could take advantage of my travels and experience, polishing and honing my skills along the way which finally led me to write a cookbook, or I could just keep treating this as something which was not serious.”
As a high school student in the suburbs of Los Angeles, Padma wanted so much to be a model. Her mother’s mind was clear—if she was beautiful at 17, she would still be attractive after she graduated from college at 21. She graduated with a BA in theatre arts from Clarke University, Massachusetts, US. During her last semester, she was hanging out at a bar in Madrid, when she was finally ‘discovered’ by an agent. Her big break came when celebrity photographer Helmut Newton asked her to pose partially nude for the Lavazza calendar. Newton’s condition was that Padma should show her scar.
Suddenly, she was being booked by everyone—from Italian Elle to the runways of Paris and Milan. “I always wanted to be a model because it is so glamorous,” she says. “Modelling has been very good for me. It has allowed me to do things that I would never have been able to do. I like the people I meet, I like to travel first class. I liked the world it allowed me to enter. You find yourself in the strangest of rooms. Because I was college-educated. Because I was better read than most models. Because I am from a background that allowed me to have a different cultural view of the world. Once I was in the room, it was up to me. Modelling was my ticket.”
The Europeans readily accepted her exotic looks. It helped that she spoke fluent Italian and Spanish, and had taken the time to learn the cultures of the two countries. She has hosted Domenica In—one of Italy’s highest-rated television shows and had judged the Miss Italy pageant.
“When all these Indian girls were winning Miss World and Miss Universe, there was an article about me in an Italian paper and it said that they had their own Indian girl at home. The Italians adopted me as an honorary daughter,” she says.
Padma started off her modeling career being shot by the world famous Helmut Newton. It was a distinctive scar on her right arm that drew his eye. She has appeared in magazines such as Vogue (US), Elle (US) and In Style (US) as well as numerous covers, including Cosmopolitan,L’Officiel, and Newsweek. She is one of the first and few models of Indian origin to be known in Milan, Paris and New York. She has walked the runways for Ralph Lauren, Alberta Ferretti, Herve Leger, Valentino and more. In 1997, just before she made the switch to acting, she was named by Max Magazine’s special top model edition as one of the world’s most successful super models — a list that includes the likes of Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Cindy Crawford. She has also appeared in advertising campaigns for the likes of La Perla and Roberto Cavalli. Padma has worked with photographers such as Ellen von Unwerth, Fabrizio Ferri, Helmut Newton and Sante D’Orazio.
Padma Lakshmi first gained culinary recognition with her world cookbook, Easy Exotic. Along with some delicious snapshots of Padma caught in the act of cooking, the book features recipes for a delicious low fat diet based upon her own experimentation over the years. As a testament to its promise, Easy Exotic was awarded Best First Book at the 1999 World Cookbook Awards at Versailles.
Although modelling assignments continue to come her way, Padma’s focus has now shifted to her film career. She played Mariah Carey’s diva rival in Glitter and the love interest of Kabir Bedi’s on-screen son in Sandokan: The Darkness and Light.
But her real passion lies in two projects that she is developing for her own company—Lakshmi Films. In fact, she now invests money from her modelling assignments into her film company.
Padma’s wide and varied TV career has ranged from hosting Italy’s highest rated TV show Domenica In on Rai Television to starring in her own cooking show, The Melting Pot — Padma’s Passport, on The Food Network in the U.S.A. Padma has also hosted a documentary series called Planet Food (broadcast on The Food Network and worldwide Discovery Channel), in which she journeyed to countries such as Spain and India.
Name a can’t-do-without item.
My diamond ring. It is four carats. I bought the diamond after my second movie. I had Tiffany set it in LA.
What beauty product can you not live without?
Eyelash curler—it opens up my eyes.
Which jeans are your favourite?
A pair of sexy, tight jeans from Diesel.
What outfit are you living in now?
Because it is winter, I love sweaters. When I travel, they don’t wrinkle and they keep me warm. But they are stretchy, so I can show my figure.
How do you maintain that sexy figure?
I eat a low-carbohydrate diet and I exercise a lot. I dance and I’ve started boxing. It’s so wonderful. I know everybody else is into yoga. My coach was in the 1988 Olympic boxing team from Liberia. It makes me feel so strong and I come out of it dripping with sweat. I feel so skinny after it that I can eat a mountain of french fries. It doesn’t matter, because I’ve earned it.
Your biggest beauty blunder?
Overdressing for my cousin’s wedding. I wore this beautiful midnight blue chiffon sari, But I also wore every single piece of silver jewellery I had, which was unnecessary. So I looked like a Christmas tree. Less is more, sometimes.
Any favourite designers?
There are so many. Marni, and Italian designer. Also Costume Nationale, Helmut Lang and Marc Jacobs.
What’s your casual day look?
Usually a pair of high heels and jeans, and a little tight tank top, with a sweater on top. I think you should wear clothes that show the best of you. People should notice you and not your clothes.
And your evening glam garb?
I like a mini skirt. I think if you show your legs, you shouldn’t wear a low-cut blouse. And if you do wear one, then you should pair it with something like leather pants. Because then you are covered, and also warm. Otherwise it looks like you are trying too hard. Sign of desperation, like notice me.
What’s your haircare regime like?
I don’t use conditioner. I have fine hair, but it has a lot of body. And if I use conditioner, it looks greasy. All I do is shampoo it. And for that I am not particular. I take whatever is on sale, as long as it smells good. I don’t curl my hair. I only blow-dry it if it is cold. Because my hair gets worked on so much, I like to give it a rest.
What do you wear at night?
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