Q&A: Padma Lakshmi

The Top Chef host, designer, and recent Joss & Main curator dishes on her personal style.


padma-lakshmi-home-interviewIt’s not easy to constantly raise the culinary bar, but for Padma Lakshmi, the host of Bravo TV’s Top Chef and an award-winning cookbook author, it’s all in a day’s work. Her refined taste and eclectic style run far beyond dining, too: Lakshmi has also launched her own jewelry and tabletop lines. Her Urban Gypsy curator’s collection, benefitting the Endometriosis Foundation of America, debuted on Joss & Main on November 19 and features worldly furniture and decor that pay homage to her bold Indian roots and her sleek New York City style. We checked in with the uber-chic TV personality to get her thoughts on entertaining, design inspirations, and balancing a multimedia career with motherhood.

You speak five languages, and grew up in India, New York and Los Angeles. How has this multicultural upbringing inspired your home design aesthetic?

My tastes and design sensibilities have definitely been influenced by all my travels. Having also spent most of my 20’s living in Italy, I always took the best of what each culture had to offer from everywhere I went.  Spices from India, rugs from Morocco, chandeliers from Paris and linens from Sicily all somehow come together in my home.  Being the outsider in any culture gives you an eagle’s eye when looking for treasures to bring home.

You’ve designed gorgeous jewelry, and now a beautiful tabletop collection. Where do you get your style ideas from?

Ideas can come from an array of sources, some obvious like film, and music and some more subtle like literature and art.  But, I am most inspired by people. I like people watching in any city. My favorite thing is to be near the entrance of an opera or ballet just about to begin and watch the promenade file in.  It’s the best fashion show possible.  I also try and look at history and at periods of great design in various cultures.  Understanding the history of one’s craft and knowing the work of artisans who defined a genre is also important. The art of knowing what came before you I feel is undervalued in our society.

padman lakshmi home

What tips do you have for setting a gorgeous tablescape for guests?

I think we must remember that a meal will be served, so I don’t personally like a lot of clutter on my table.  I usually decide on the theme based on the food and go from there.  A simple traditional white linen tablecloth with silver and gold is ideal for a beautiful roast or other fall dishes.  If cooking Indian or Mexican, it’s nice to mix in flowers on the table that echo the colors of the cuisine.

Do you have a favorite signature dish for entertaining? What dish is a must for the holidays?

I love a roast chicken or pot roast with root vegetables and a crisp salad with winter apples. Nothing beats the classicism of that.

You’re a seasoned traveler – what are some of your favorite hostess gifts to give when visiting friends and family?

I like giving teas, or spices or some small gift that the host will use again and again when hosting other gatherings so they will always think of you.  Even a simple teapot or pitcher is nice.  I think that’s more memorable than chocolates or a bottle of wine that is easily forgotten once it’s consumed.

As a mother, what advice do you have for making cooking a collaborative, family-friendly experience?

We are all so busy that cooking with our kids is actually a great way to multitask and bond as a family.  Choose a recipe that your child can execute well, like a crumble or a salad.  One that is forgiving and easy.  The more a child has a hand in what they eat, the more likely that child is to eat well throughout their lives.  This is the greatest gift we can give to our children.  One they will hopefully carry with them even when we are gone.

The kitchen is truly where form meets function. What are your tips for creating a multifunctional space? How do you bring this balance to your own kitchen?

Since this is where most families spend the majority of their time it is important that it remains as versatile and functional and as uncluttered as possible.  I always keep my spices and ladles and wooden spoons near the stove as I know I will reach for them at a critical moment in the cooking process.  I also arrange my fridge in such a way that I can see what leftovers there are before I cook again. I keep the oils and vinegars near the stove too.  If you have the space, a little area where small children or grownups with newspapers can set up their station is great to keep them from getting in your way while cooking. Make sure the fridge and stove and sink are all close enough to each other and form a triangle of movement.

What’s the one kitchen essential you can’t live without? Do you have a favorite splurge?

I have all my oils and spices on a big lazy Susan and this allows me to remember all the spices and tricks I have to induce different flavors in my dishes.

With Top Chef, you’ve been able to visit an array of culinary hotspots. Are there any favorite regional dishes you’ve brought home? Can you share any examples of how you might have personalized them?

I came back from New Orleans with a great working knowledge of gumbo from the masters of that cuisine.  I do a South Indian version of gumbo with curry leaves instead of file powder and coconut milk instead of roux.

If you could only choose five culinary staples that are essential for any at-home chef, what would they be and why?

Onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder, herbes de Provence.  I can make anything from California to China with those staples of flavor.