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New York's Food Book Fair: Why Food Writing Matters

New York's Food Book Fair: Why Food Writing Matters

Food magazines, food memoirs, food web sites, cookbooks, food art — the resources for food today are seemingly endless. So New York City’s Food Book Fair, happening this coming weekend May 4 to 6, is an obvious source of excitement for those on the food scene — a gathering of food authors, chefs, artists, and curators under one roof.

The Food Book Fair came together through organizer Elizabeth Thacker Jones' desire to expand food studies into the public sphere. Jones, a graduate student at NYU in food studies, says she was exposed to all sorts of books, not just on making food, but on the issues behind food.

"Now is a pretty important time for us to look at the state of our food system," Jones says, noting the dichotomy between the increasing obesity rates in America and the growing number of malnourished populations in the world. "I think everyone is going to experience food studies at some level."

Jones says there is a large diversity of opinion in the food studies realm — understandably, given the array of panelists at the Food Book Fair. From authors like Tamar Adler (An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace) to food publishers like Ed Behr (The Art of Eating) to food professors like Marion Nestle (Food Politics, Why Calories Count) to performance artists like Jennifer Rubell, the fair's participants offer panels on food as it relates to design, culture, art, media, even pornography. Not to mention the overwhelming number of books featured at the fair — more than 100 books.

Adler says she’s excited to hear from other people that are writing about food and cooking right now. Most of the cookbook authors she follows, she says, aren’t alive anymore. "It will be cool to meet ones that are [alive], that are shaping the food sphere," she says.


The 10 Dishes That Made My Career: Padma Lakshmi

Packaged narratives and lazy clichés are heroin to the celebrity media machine, hard to resist and even harder to shake once you’ve had a taste. The junk fiends have been dogging Padma Lakshmi for more than 16 years, painting the Indian-born model/actress-turned-cookbook author/TV star with a brush that is at turns Orientalizing and misogynistic. Though her persona on Top Chef—which she joined in its second season in 2006—is measured, collegial, and only moderately sensual (inevitable for someone who eats food for a living), she has been repeatedly described as either an exotic sexpot or a frosty goddess.

Her professional skill has been in nodding at these perceptions while letting them slide off her back—she has participated in the "how does she stay so thin?" profile, the winking bed-based Sunday routine profile, the Fashion Week profile in which Guy Trebay described her as a "semicelebrated hustler"—maneuvering that name recognition into a line of frozen meals, jewelry, tableware, and cookbooks.

This is the year Lakshmi rewrote the narrative. Her two newest books, published within six months of each other—The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs and Love, Loss and What We Ate—are a new departure in transparency, one offering a clear portal into Lakshmi's head, the other to her heart. Together, they form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.

Her very first book, published in 1999, was her spice-tinged response to the question "What do models eat?" At the time, she’d made waves in the couture world after posing nude for Helmut Newton and was a sometime actor and co-host of an Italian variety show. The cookbook’s title, Easy Exotic, was described by Vanity Fair as "a phrase to make a politically correct Yale professor split his jeans," and its photos of the author in the kitchen in less-than-regulation kitchen gear sealed her fate.

“Her two newest books form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.”

The next book came out eight years later, long enough to encompass a much-gossiped-about relationship with Salman Rushdie. Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet, a reference to the balance of flavors inherent to Asian cuisines, was inevitably read as more salacious press-bait, even as, Lakshmi has since revealed, she was going through a painful divorce and more literally painful struggle with endometriosis, an illness she'd lived with undiagnosed for decades.

This year, she says she intended to write another healthy-eating cookbook only to have the words spin themselves into a memoir. No longer content to let media misconceptions linger, she writes at length in Love, Loss, and What We Ate about suffering from low self-esteem in a lily-white Southern California high school, the warts-and-all reasons that led to the end of her marriage to Rushdie, and her health. Her other book out this year is less obviously personal: a reference tome produced in collaboration with legendary NYC spice shop Kalustyan's. But for Lakshmi, who describes her palate as "needing stimulation—as a child, I was with spicy condiments like most children are with chocolate or candy," it's an encyclopedia of her passions.

Adamant that she's just a home cook (as compared to her Top Chef contestants, who are trying to "wow the shit out of me—and so they should!"), Lakshmi’s culinary gift lies in demystifying the spices she loves and using them in concert with one another, skillfully layering intense flavors. As she describes it, “When I taste something, in my mind I’m processing it almost like a piece of music—‘This instrument or this ingredient is too loud and it needs to hold back a little bit, that needs to be more forward for balance.’” With her public life, like her palate, finally finding its own natural balance, Lakshmi’s poised at the edge of even greater success.

From her grandmother’s lemon rice to a Top Chef favorite, here are the 10 dishes that made Padma Lakshmi’s career.


The 10 Dishes That Made My Career: Padma Lakshmi

Packaged narratives and lazy clichés are heroin to the celebrity media machine, hard to resist and even harder to shake once you’ve had a taste. The junk fiends have been dogging Padma Lakshmi for more than 16 years, painting the Indian-born model/actress-turned-cookbook author/TV star with a brush that is at turns Orientalizing and misogynistic. Though her persona on Top Chef—which she joined in its second season in 2006—is measured, collegial, and only moderately sensual (inevitable for someone who eats food for a living), she has been repeatedly described as either an exotic sexpot or a frosty goddess.

Her professional skill has been in nodding at these perceptions while letting them slide off her back—she has participated in the "how does she stay so thin?" profile, the winking bed-based Sunday routine profile, the Fashion Week profile in which Guy Trebay described her as a "semicelebrated hustler"—maneuvering that name recognition into a line of frozen meals, jewelry, tableware, and cookbooks.

This is the year Lakshmi rewrote the narrative. Her two newest books, published within six months of each other—The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs and Love, Loss and What We Ate—are a new departure in transparency, one offering a clear portal into Lakshmi's head, the other to her heart. Together, they form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.

Her very first book, published in 1999, was her spice-tinged response to the question "What do models eat?" At the time, she’d made waves in the couture world after posing nude for Helmut Newton and was a sometime actor and co-host of an Italian variety show. The cookbook’s title, Easy Exotic, was described by Vanity Fair as "a phrase to make a politically correct Yale professor split his jeans," and its photos of the author in the kitchen in less-than-regulation kitchen gear sealed her fate.

“Her two newest books form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.”

The next book came out eight years later, long enough to encompass a much-gossiped-about relationship with Salman Rushdie. Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet, a reference to the balance of flavors inherent to Asian cuisines, was inevitably read as more salacious press-bait, even as, Lakshmi has since revealed, she was going through a painful divorce and more literally painful struggle with endometriosis, an illness she'd lived with undiagnosed for decades.

This year, she says she intended to write another healthy-eating cookbook only to have the words spin themselves into a memoir. No longer content to let media misconceptions linger, she writes at length in Love, Loss, and What We Ate about suffering from low self-esteem in a lily-white Southern California high school, the warts-and-all reasons that led to the end of her marriage to Rushdie, and her health. Her other book out this year is less obviously personal: a reference tome produced in collaboration with legendary NYC spice shop Kalustyan's. But for Lakshmi, who describes her palate as "needing stimulation—as a child, I was with spicy condiments like most children are with chocolate or candy," it's an encyclopedia of her passions.

Adamant that she's just a home cook (as compared to her Top Chef contestants, who are trying to "wow the shit out of me—and so they should!"), Lakshmi’s culinary gift lies in demystifying the spices she loves and using them in concert with one another, skillfully layering intense flavors. As she describes it, “When I taste something, in my mind I’m processing it almost like a piece of music—‘This instrument or this ingredient is too loud and it needs to hold back a little bit, that needs to be more forward for balance.’” With her public life, like her palate, finally finding its own natural balance, Lakshmi’s poised at the edge of even greater success.

From her grandmother’s lemon rice to a Top Chef favorite, here are the 10 dishes that made Padma Lakshmi’s career.


The 10 Dishes That Made My Career: Padma Lakshmi

Packaged narratives and lazy clichés are heroin to the celebrity media machine, hard to resist and even harder to shake once you’ve had a taste. The junk fiends have been dogging Padma Lakshmi for more than 16 years, painting the Indian-born model/actress-turned-cookbook author/TV star with a brush that is at turns Orientalizing and misogynistic. Though her persona on Top Chef—which she joined in its second season in 2006—is measured, collegial, and only moderately sensual (inevitable for someone who eats food for a living), she has been repeatedly described as either an exotic sexpot or a frosty goddess.

Her professional skill has been in nodding at these perceptions while letting them slide off her back—she has participated in the "how does she stay so thin?" profile, the winking bed-based Sunday routine profile, the Fashion Week profile in which Guy Trebay described her as a "semicelebrated hustler"—maneuvering that name recognition into a line of frozen meals, jewelry, tableware, and cookbooks.

This is the year Lakshmi rewrote the narrative. Her two newest books, published within six months of each other—The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs and Love, Loss and What We Ate—are a new departure in transparency, one offering a clear portal into Lakshmi's head, the other to her heart. Together, they form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.

Her very first book, published in 1999, was her spice-tinged response to the question "What do models eat?" At the time, she’d made waves in the couture world after posing nude for Helmut Newton and was a sometime actor and co-host of an Italian variety show. The cookbook’s title, Easy Exotic, was described by Vanity Fair as "a phrase to make a politically correct Yale professor split his jeans," and its photos of the author in the kitchen in less-than-regulation kitchen gear sealed her fate.

“Her two newest books form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.”

The next book came out eight years later, long enough to encompass a much-gossiped-about relationship with Salman Rushdie. Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet, a reference to the balance of flavors inherent to Asian cuisines, was inevitably read as more salacious press-bait, even as, Lakshmi has since revealed, she was going through a painful divorce and more literally painful struggle with endometriosis, an illness she'd lived with undiagnosed for decades.

This year, she says she intended to write another healthy-eating cookbook only to have the words spin themselves into a memoir. No longer content to let media misconceptions linger, she writes at length in Love, Loss, and What We Ate about suffering from low self-esteem in a lily-white Southern California high school, the warts-and-all reasons that led to the end of her marriage to Rushdie, and her health. Her other book out this year is less obviously personal: a reference tome produced in collaboration with legendary NYC spice shop Kalustyan's. But for Lakshmi, who describes her palate as "needing stimulation—as a child, I was with spicy condiments like most children are with chocolate or candy," it's an encyclopedia of her passions.

Adamant that she's just a home cook (as compared to her Top Chef contestants, who are trying to "wow the shit out of me—and so they should!"), Lakshmi’s culinary gift lies in demystifying the spices she loves and using them in concert with one another, skillfully layering intense flavors. As she describes it, “When I taste something, in my mind I’m processing it almost like a piece of music—‘This instrument or this ingredient is too loud and it needs to hold back a little bit, that needs to be more forward for balance.’” With her public life, like her palate, finally finding its own natural balance, Lakshmi’s poised at the edge of even greater success.

From her grandmother’s lemon rice to a Top Chef favorite, here are the 10 dishes that made Padma Lakshmi’s career.


The 10 Dishes That Made My Career: Padma Lakshmi

Packaged narratives and lazy clichés are heroin to the celebrity media machine, hard to resist and even harder to shake once you’ve had a taste. The junk fiends have been dogging Padma Lakshmi for more than 16 years, painting the Indian-born model/actress-turned-cookbook author/TV star with a brush that is at turns Orientalizing and misogynistic. Though her persona on Top Chef—which she joined in its second season in 2006—is measured, collegial, and only moderately sensual (inevitable for someone who eats food for a living), she has been repeatedly described as either an exotic sexpot or a frosty goddess.

Her professional skill has been in nodding at these perceptions while letting them slide off her back—she has participated in the "how does she stay so thin?" profile, the winking bed-based Sunday routine profile, the Fashion Week profile in which Guy Trebay described her as a "semicelebrated hustler"—maneuvering that name recognition into a line of frozen meals, jewelry, tableware, and cookbooks.

This is the year Lakshmi rewrote the narrative. Her two newest books, published within six months of each other—The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs and Love, Loss and What We Ate—are a new departure in transparency, one offering a clear portal into Lakshmi's head, the other to her heart. Together, they form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.

Her very first book, published in 1999, was her spice-tinged response to the question "What do models eat?" At the time, she’d made waves in the couture world after posing nude for Helmut Newton and was a sometime actor and co-host of an Italian variety show. The cookbook’s title, Easy Exotic, was described by Vanity Fair as "a phrase to make a politically correct Yale professor split his jeans," and its photos of the author in the kitchen in less-than-regulation kitchen gear sealed her fate.

“Her two newest books form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.”

The next book came out eight years later, long enough to encompass a much-gossiped-about relationship with Salman Rushdie. Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet, a reference to the balance of flavors inherent to Asian cuisines, was inevitably read as more salacious press-bait, even as, Lakshmi has since revealed, she was going through a painful divorce and more literally painful struggle with endometriosis, an illness she'd lived with undiagnosed for decades.

This year, she says she intended to write another healthy-eating cookbook only to have the words spin themselves into a memoir. No longer content to let media misconceptions linger, she writes at length in Love, Loss, and What We Ate about suffering from low self-esteem in a lily-white Southern California high school, the warts-and-all reasons that led to the end of her marriage to Rushdie, and her health. Her other book out this year is less obviously personal: a reference tome produced in collaboration with legendary NYC spice shop Kalustyan's. But for Lakshmi, who describes her palate as "needing stimulation—as a child, I was with spicy condiments like most children are with chocolate or candy," it's an encyclopedia of her passions.

Adamant that she's just a home cook (as compared to her Top Chef contestants, who are trying to "wow the shit out of me—and so they should!"), Lakshmi’s culinary gift lies in demystifying the spices she loves and using them in concert with one another, skillfully layering intense flavors. As she describes it, “When I taste something, in my mind I’m processing it almost like a piece of music—‘This instrument or this ingredient is too loud and it needs to hold back a little bit, that needs to be more forward for balance.’” With her public life, like her palate, finally finding its own natural balance, Lakshmi’s poised at the edge of even greater success.

From her grandmother’s lemon rice to a Top Chef favorite, here are the 10 dishes that made Padma Lakshmi’s career.


The 10 Dishes That Made My Career: Padma Lakshmi

Packaged narratives and lazy clichés are heroin to the celebrity media machine, hard to resist and even harder to shake once you’ve had a taste. The junk fiends have been dogging Padma Lakshmi for more than 16 years, painting the Indian-born model/actress-turned-cookbook author/TV star with a brush that is at turns Orientalizing and misogynistic. Though her persona on Top Chef—which she joined in its second season in 2006—is measured, collegial, and only moderately sensual (inevitable for someone who eats food for a living), she has been repeatedly described as either an exotic sexpot or a frosty goddess.

Her professional skill has been in nodding at these perceptions while letting them slide off her back—she has participated in the "how does she stay so thin?" profile, the winking bed-based Sunday routine profile, the Fashion Week profile in which Guy Trebay described her as a "semicelebrated hustler"—maneuvering that name recognition into a line of frozen meals, jewelry, tableware, and cookbooks.

This is the year Lakshmi rewrote the narrative. Her two newest books, published within six months of each other—The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs and Love, Loss and What We Ate—are a new departure in transparency, one offering a clear portal into Lakshmi's head, the other to her heart. Together, they form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.

Her very first book, published in 1999, was her spice-tinged response to the question "What do models eat?" At the time, she’d made waves in the couture world after posing nude for Helmut Newton and was a sometime actor and co-host of an Italian variety show. The cookbook’s title, Easy Exotic, was described by Vanity Fair as "a phrase to make a politically correct Yale professor split his jeans," and its photos of the author in the kitchen in less-than-regulation kitchen gear sealed her fate.

“Her two newest books form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.”

The next book came out eight years later, long enough to encompass a much-gossiped-about relationship with Salman Rushdie. Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet, a reference to the balance of flavors inherent to Asian cuisines, was inevitably read as more salacious press-bait, even as, Lakshmi has since revealed, she was going through a painful divorce and more literally painful struggle with endometriosis, an illness she'd lived with undiagnosed for decades.

This year, she says she intended to write another healthy-eating cookbook only to have the words spin themselves into a memoir. No longer content to let media misconceptions linger, she writes at length in Love, Loss, and What We Ate about suffering from low self-esteem in a lily-white Southern California high school, the warts-and-all reasons that led to the end of her marriage to Rushdie, and her health. Her other book out this year is less obviously personal: a reference tome produced in collaboration with legendary NYC spice shop Kalustyan's. But for Lakshmi, who describes her palate as "needing stimulation—as a child, I was with spicy condiments like most children are with chocolate or candy," it's an encyclopedia of her passions.

Adamant that she's just a home cook (as compared to her Top Chef contestants, who are trying to "wow the shit out of me—and so they should!"), Lakshmi’s culinary gift lies in demystifying the spices she loves and using them in concert with one another, skillfully layering intense flavors. As she describes it, “When I taste something, in my mind I’m processing it almost like a piece of music—‘This instrument or this ingredient is too loud and it needs to hold back a little bit, that needs to be more forward for balance.’” With her public life, like her palate, finally finding its own natural balance, Lakshmi’s poised at the edge of even greater success.

From her grandmother’s lemon rice to a Top Chef favorite, here are the 10 dishes that made Padma Lakshmi’s career.


The 10 Dishes That Made My Career: Padma Lakshmi

Packaged narratives and lazy clichés are heroin to the celebrity media machine, hard to resist and even harder to shake once you’ve had a taste. The junk fiends have been dogging Padma Lakshmi for more than 16 years, painting the Indian-born model/actress-turned-cookbook author/TV star with a brush that is at turns Orientalizing and misogynistic. Though her persona on Top Chef—which she joined in its second season in 2006—is measured, collegial, and only moderately sensual (inevitable for someone who eats food for a living), she has been repeatedly described as either an exotic sexpot or a frosty goddess.

Her professional skill has been in nodding at these perceptions while letting them slide off her back—she has participated in the "how does she stay so thin?" profile, the winking bed-based Sunday routine profile, the Fashion Week profile in which Guy Trebay described her as a "semicelebrated hustler"—maneuvering that name recognition into a line of frozen meals, jewelry, tableware, and cookbooks.

This is the year Lakshmi rewrote the narrative. Her two newest books, published within six months of each other—The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs and Love, Loss and What We Ate—are a new departure in transparency, one offering a clear portal into Lakshmi's head, the other to her heart. Together, they form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.

Her very first book, published in 1999, was her spice-tinged response to the question "What do models eat?" At the time, she’d made waves in the couture world after posing nude for Helmut Newton and was a sometime actor and co-host of an Italian variety show. The cookbook’s title, Easy Exotic, was described by Vanity Fair as "a phrase to make a politically correct Yale professor split his jeans," and its photos of the author in the kitchen in less-than-regulation kitchen gear sealed her fate.

“Her two newest books form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.”

The next book came out eight years later, long enough to encompass a much-gossiped-about relationship with Salman Rushdie. Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet, a reference to the balance of flavors inherent to Asian cuisines, was inevitably read as more salacious press-bait, even as, Lakshmi has since revealed, she was going through a painful divorce and more literally painful struggle with endometriosis, an illness she'd lived with undiagnosed for decades.

This year, she says she intended to write another healthy-eating cookbook only to have the words spin themselves into a memoir. No longer content to let media misconceptions linger, she writes at length in Love, Loss, and What We Ate about suffering from low self-esteem in a lily-white Southern California high school, the warts-and-all reasons that led to the end of her marriage to Rushdie, and her health. Her other book out this year is less obviously personal: a reference tome produced in collaboration with legendary NYC spice shop Kalustyan's. But for Lakshmi, who describes her palate as "needing stimulation—as a child, I was with spicy condiments like most children are with chocolate or candy," it's an encyclopedia of her passions.

Adamant that she's just a home cook (as compared to her Top Chef contestants, who are trying to "wow the shit out of me—and so they should!"), Lakshmi’s culinary gift lies in demystifying the spices she loves and using them in concert with one another, skillfully layering intense flavors. As she describes it, “When I taste something, in my mind I’m processing it almost like a piece of music—‘This instrument or this ingredient is too loud and it needs to hold back a little bit, that needs to be more forward for balance.’” With her public life, like her palate, finally finding its own natural balance, Lakshmi’s poised at the edge of even greater success.

From her grandmother’s lemon rice to a Top Chef favorite, here are the 10 dishes that made Padma Lakshmi’s career.


The 10 Dishes That Made My Career: Padma Lakshmi

Packaged narratives and lazy clichés are heroin to the celebrity media machine, hard to resist and even harder to shake once you’ve had a taste. The junk fiends have been dogging Padma Lakshmi for more than 16 years, painting the Indian-born model/actress-turned-cookbook author/TV star with a brush that is at turns Orientalizing and misogynistic. Though her persona on Top Chef—which she joined in its second season in 2006—is measured, collegial, and only moderately sensual (inevitable for someone who eats food for a living), she has been repeatedly described as either an exotic sexpot or a frosty goddess.

Her professional skill has been in nodding at these perceptions while letting them slide off her back—she has participated in the "how does she stay so thin?" profile, the winking bed-based Sunday routine profile, the Fashion Week profile in which Guy Trebay described her as a "semicelebrated hustler"—maneuvering that name recognition into a line of frozen meals, jewelry, tableware, and cookbooks.

This is the year Lakshmi rewrote the narrative. Her two newest books, published within six months of each other—The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs and Love, Loss and What We Ate—are a new departure in transparency, one offering a clear portal into Lakshmi's head, the other to her heart. Together, they form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.

Her very first book, published in 1999, was her spice-tinged response to the question "What do models eat?" At the time, she’d made waves in the couture world after posing nude for Helmut Newton and was a sometime actor and co-host of an Italian variety show. The cookbook’s title, Easy Exotic, was described by Vanity Fair as "a phrase to make a politically correct Yale professor split his jeans," and its photos of the author in the kitchen in less-than-regulation kitchen gear sealed her fate.

“Her two newest books form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.”

The next book came out eight years later, long enough to encompass a much-gossiped-about relationship with Salman Rushdie. Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet, a reference to the balance of flavors inherent to Asian cuisines, was inevitably read as more salacious press-bait, even as, Lakshmi has since revealed, she was going through a painful divorce and more literally painful struggle with endometriosis, an illness she'd lived with undiagnosed for decades.

This year, she says she intended to write another healthy-eating cookbook only to have the words spin themselves into a memoir. No longer content to let media misconceptions linger, she writes at length in Love, Loss, and What We Ate about suffering from low self-esteem in a lily-white Southern California high school, the warts-and-all reasons that led to the end of her marriage to Rushdie, and her health. Her other book out this year is less obviously personal: a reference tome produced in collaboration with legendary NYC spice shop Kalustyan's. But for Lakshmi, who describes her palate as "needing stimulation—as a child, I was with spicy condiments like most children are with chocolate or candy," it's an encyclopedia of her passions.

Adamant that she's just a home cook (as compared to her Top Chef contestants, who are trying to "wow the shit out of me—and so they should!"), Lakshmi’s culinary gift lies in demystifying the spices she loves and using them in concert with one another, skillfully layering intense flavors. As she describes it, “When I taste something, in my mind I’m processing it almost like a piece of music—‘This instrument or this ingredient is too loud and it needs to hold back a little bit, that needs to be more forward for balance.’” With her public life, like her palate, finally finding its own natural balance, Lakshmi’s poised at the edge of even greater success.

From her grandmother’s lemon rice to a Top Chef favorite, here are the 10 dishes that made Padma Lakshmi’s career.


The 10 Dishes That Made My Career: Padma Lakshmi

Packaged narratives and lazy clichés are heroin to the celebrity media machine, hard to resist and even harder to shake once you’ve had a taste. The junk fiends have been dogging Padma Lakshmi for more than 16 years, painting the Indian-born model/actress-turned-cookbook author/TV star with a brush that is at turns Orientalizing and misogynistic. Though her persona on Top Chef—which she joined in its second season in 2006—is measured, collegial, and only moderately sensual (inevitable for someone who eats food for a living), she has been repeatedly described as either an exotic sexpot or a frosty goddess.

Her professional skill has been in nodding at these perceptions while letting them slide off her back—she has participated in the "how does she stay so thin?" profile, the winking bed-based Sunday routine profile, the Fashion Week profile in which Guy Trebay described her as a "semicelebrated hustler"—maneuvering that name recognition into a line of frozen meals, jewelry, tableware, and cookbooks.

This is the year Lakshmi rewrote the narrative. Her two newest books, published within six months of each other—The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs and Love, Loss and What We Ate—are a new departure in transparency, one offering a clear portal into Lakshmi's head, the other to her heart. Together, they form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.

Her very first book, published in 1999, was her spice-tinged response to the question "What do models eat?" At the time, she’d made waves in the couture world after posing nude for Helmut Newton and was a sometime actor and co-host of an Italian variety show. The cookbook’s title, Easy Exotic, was described by Vanity Fair as "a phrase to make a politically correct Yale professor split his jeans," and its photos of the author in the kitchen in less-than-regulation kitchen gear sealed her fate.

“Her two newest books form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.”

The next book came out eight years later, long enough to encompass a much-gossiped-about relationship with Salman Rushdie. Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet, a reference to the balance of flavors inherent to Asian cuisines, was inevitably read as more salacious press-bait, even as, Lakshmi has since revealed, she was going through a painful divorce and more literally painful struggle with endometriosis, an illness she'd lived with undiagnosed for decades.

This year, she says she intended to write another healthy-eating cookbook only to have the words spin themselves into a memoir. No longer content to let media misconceptions linger, she writes at length in Love, Loss, and What We Ate about suffering from low self-esteem in a lily-white Southern California high school, the warts-and-all reasons that led to the end of her marriage to Rushdie, and her health. Her other book out this year is less obviously personal: a reference tome produced in collaboration with legendary NYC spice shop Kalustyan's. But for Lakshmi, who describes her palate as "needing stimulation—as a child, I was with spicy condiments like most children are with chocolate or candy," it's an encyclopedia of her passions.

Adamant that she's just a home cook (as compared to her Top Chef contestants, who are trying to "wow the shit out of me—and so they should!"), Lakshmi’s culinary gift lies in demystifying the spices she loves and using them in concert with one another, skillfully layering intense flavors. As she describes it, “When I taste something, in my mind I’m processing it almost like a piece of music—‘This instrument or this ingredient is too loud and it needs to hold back a little bit, that needs to be more forward for balance.’” With her public life, like her palate, finally finding its own natural balance, Lakshmi’s poised at the edge of even greater success.

From her grandmother’s lemon rice to a Top Chef favorite, here are the 10 dishes that made Padma Lakshmi’s career.


The 10 Dishes That Made My Career: Padma Lakshmi

Packaged narratives and lazy clichés are heroin to the celebrity media machine, hard to resist and even harder to shake once you’ve had a taste. The junk fiends have been dogging Padma Lakshmi for more than 16 years, painting the Indian-born model/actress-turned-cookbook author/TV star with a brush that is at turns Orientalizing and misogynistic. Though her persona on Top Chef—which she joined in its second season in 2006—is measured, collegial, and only moderately sensual (inevitable for someone who eats food for a living), she has been repeatedly described as either an exotic sexpot or a frosty goddess.

Her professional skill has been in nodding at these perceptions while letting them slide off her back—she has participated in the "how does she stay so thin?" profile, the winking bed-based Sunday routine profile, the Fashion Week profile in which Guy Trebay described her as a "semicelebrated hustler"—maneuvering that name recognition into a line of frozen meals, jewelry, tableware, and cookbooks.

This is the year Lakshmi rewrote the narrative. Her two newest books, published within six months of each other—The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs and Love, Loss and What We Ate—are a new departure in transparency, one offering a clear portal into Lakshmi's head, the other to her heart. Together, they form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.

Her very first book, published in 1999, was her spice-tinged response to the question "What do models eat?" At the time, she’d made waves in the couture world after posing nude for Helmut Newton and was a sometime actor and co-host of an Italian variety show. The cookbook’s title, Easy Exotic, was described by Vanity Fair as "a phrase to make a politically correct Yale professor split his jeans," and its photos of the author in the kitchen in less-than-regulation kitchen gear sealed her fate.

“Her two newest books form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.”

The next book came out eight years later, long enough to encompass a much-gossiped-about relationship with Salman Rushdie. Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet, a reference to the balance of flavors inherent to Asian cuisines, was inevitably read as more salacious press-bait, even as, Lakshmi has since revealed, she was going through a painful divorce and more literally painful struggle with endometriosis, an illness she'd lived with undiagnosed for decades.

This year, she says she intended to write another healthy-eating cookbook only to have the words spin themselves into a memoir. No longer content to let media misconceptions linger, she writes at length in Love, Loss, and What We Ate about suffering from low self-esteem in a lily-white Southern California high school, the warts-and-all reasons that led to the end of her marriage to Rushdie, and her health. Her other book out this year is less obviously personal: a reference tome produced in collaboration with legendary NYC spice shop Kalustyan's. But for Lakshmi, who describes her palate as "needing stimulation—as a child, I was with spicy condiments like most children are with chocolate or candy," it's an encyclopedia of her passions.

Adamant that she's just a home cook (as compared to her Top Chef contestants, who are trying to "wow the shit out of me—and so they should!"), Lakshmi’s culinary gift lies in demystifying the spices she loves and using them in concert with one another, skillfully layering intense flavors. As she describes it, “When I taste something, in my mind I’m processing it almost like a piece of music—‘This instrument or this ingredient is too loud and it needs to hold back a little bit, that needs to be more forward for balance.’” With her public life, like her palate, finally finding its own natural balance, Lakshmi’s poised at the edge of even greater success.

From her grandmother’s lemon rice to a Top Chef favorite, here are the 10 dishes that made Padma Lakshmi’s career.


The 10 Dishes That Made My Career: Padma Lakshmi

Packaged narratives and lazy clichés are heroin to the celebrity media machine, hard to resist and even harder to shake once you’ve had a taste. The junk fiends have been dogging Padma Lakshmi for more than 16 years, painting the Indian-born model/actress-turned-cookbook author/TV star with a brush that is at turns Orientalizing and misogynistic. Though her persona on Top Chef—which she joined in its second season in 2006—is measured, collegial, and only moderately sensual (inevitable for someone who eats food for a living), she has been repeatedly described as either an exotic sexpot or a frosty goddess.

Her professional skill has been in nodding at these perceptions while letting them slide off her back—she has participated in the "how does she stay so thin?" profile, the winking bed-based Sunday routine profile, the Fashion Week profile in which Guy Trebay described her as a "semicelebrated hustler"—maneuvering that name recognition into a line of frozen meals, jewelry, tableware, and cookbooks.

This is the year Lakshmi rewrote the narrative. Her two newest books, published within six months of each other—The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs and Love, Loss and What We Ate—are a new departure in transparency, one offering a clear portal into Lakshmi's head, the other to her heart. Together, they form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.

Her very first book, published in 1999, was her spice-tinged response to the question "What do models eat?" At the time, she’d made waves in the couture world after posing nude for Helmut Newton and was a sometime actor and co-host of an Italian variety show. The cookbook’s title, Easy Exotic, was described by Vanity Fair as "a phrase to make a politically correct Yale professor split his jeans," and its photos of the author in the kitchen in less-than-regulation kitchen gear sealed her fate.

“Her two newest books form a complete portrait of a woman, neither ice princess nor nymphomaniac, who refuses to be defined by others any more.”

The next book came out eight years later, long enough to encompass a much-gossiped-about relationship with Salman Rushdie. Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet, a reference to the balance of flavors inherent to Asian cuisines, was inevitably read as more salacious press-bait, even as, Lakshmi has since revealed, she was going through a painful divorce and more literally painful struggle with endometriosis, an illness she'd lived with undiagnosed for decades.

This year, she says she intended to write another healthy-eating cookbook only to have the words spin themselves into a memoir. No longer content to let media misconceptions linger, she writes at length in Love, Loss, and What We Ate about suffering from low self-esteem in a lily-white Southern California high school, the warts-and-all reasons that led to the end of her marriage to Rushdie, and her health. Her other book out this year is less obviously personal: a reference tome produced in collaboration with legendary NYC spice shop Kalustyan's. But for Lakshmi, who describes her palate as "needing stimulation—as a child, I was with spicy condiments like most children are with chocolate or candy," it's an encyclopedia of her passions.

Adamant that she's just a home cook (as compared to her Top Chef contestants, who are trying to "wow the shit out of me—and so they should!"), Lakshmi’s culinary gift lies in demystifying the spices she loves and using them in concert with one another, skillfully layering intense flavors. As she describes it, “When I taste something, in my mind I’m processing it almost like a piece of music—‘This instrument or this ingredient is too loud and it needs to hold back a little bit, that needs to be more forward for balance.’” With her public life, like her palate, finally finding its own natural balance, Lakshmi’s poised at the edge of even greater success.

From her grandmother’s lemon rice to a Top Chef favorite, here are the 10 dishes that made Padma Lakshmi’s career.


Watch the video: 8th annual Read USA book fair (October 2021).