‘Top Chef’ producer Padma Lakshmi and food critic Rashmi Uday Singh kicked off the Kala Ghoda Festival in Mumbai over the weekend, by participating in a delightful discussion, where Lakshmi spoke about her memoir, Love, Loss and What We Ate, and her new cookbook, Spices and Herbs.
Lakshmi said that it took her five years to write her memoir. “I am 46 but a young writer,” she said. The book talks about her life as an Indian American, her breakup with Salman Rushdie, and her experiences serving as producer on the hit TV show ‘Top Chef’. She said that she personally responds to raw and deep writing, and so she forced herself to be truthful, and write something that was real, and not just a fluff piece.
“Women were asked if they were feminists and they would say no. I wanted to take that word back. I am a feminist and I couldn’t be friends with anyone who wasn’t”
“I felt like an outsider in India and in America. I felt American, but I did feel like I was looked at as the other and not someone as wholly American.”
“In India, I used to come in the summer to Chennai for three months. I am as Indian as my cousins. But I didn’t have the same pop culture references.”
The idea of traversing two cultures, and not belonging is a big theme in the book. “We have all felt that feeling, whether in a new job or school. Those parts were wonderful to write,” she says.
Lakshmi is the daughter of an immigrant nurse from Chennai. Her mother divorced her father, and raised the children on her own.
“Immigration has made America what it is,” she said.
Lakshmi proudly claims that she is a feminist. She has even taken her mother’s last name.
Lakshmi started the Endometriosis Foundation of America in 2009, to help women understand the ramifications of the disease. She has personally been suffering from it since the age of 13.
“I always had access to healthcare and yet, I fell through the cracks. I didn’t want girls to go through what I did. So I helped launch a research center at MIT. We have educated over 16,000 teenagers in New York. After being a mother, it is the most gratifying job I do.”
She also said that regardless of who has been in office, “for a long time feminism got a bad name”.
“I have the best job in the world. I am uniquely qualified for it as I have an unlimited appetite. I am the only person who eats every single thing made on Top Chef”
“Women were asked if they were feminists and they would say no. I wanted to take that word back. I am a feminist and I couldn’t be friends with anyone who wasn’t.”
She also said that anyone can be a feminist, male or female. “I even know pro-life feminists,” she said. It is a civil rights issue which touches everyone.
As for her job at ‘Top Chef’, she says, “I have the best job in the world. I am uniquely qualified for it as I have an unlimited appetite. I am the only person who eats every single thing made on top chef.”
So how does she keep fit? “I go through three different sizes in the 6 weeks of filming, and this has been happening over ten years. I’m not twenty. It takes me 12 weeks to lose the weight. But it is sweat equity. I get a lot out of being physically fit.”
She even carries a jumprope in her bag.
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