Padma Lakshmi is an Indian-born American model, actress, food expert, and award-winning author. She was the first Indian model to have a career in Paris, Milan and New York. Her modeling career led to her acting career as she began appearing in television shows filmed in Hollywood, Bollywood, and Europe. As an author she won the Best First Book award at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards, for her first cookbook ‘Easy Exotic’. Her memoir, ‘Love, Loss and What We Ate’, released on the International Women's Day, is a New York Times best-seller. Padma is also a television host and an executive producer. She has been hosting the US reality television program ‘Top Chef’ since 2006, for which she received a nomination for the ‘Emmy Award for Outstanding Host for a Reality Program’. Ambassador for the ACLU and the recipient of the NECO Ellis Island Medal of Honor, Padma is a well-known businesswoman, heading many of her companies like ‘Padma’s Easy Exotic’ that sells a collection of frozen foods and ‘Padma Collection’, a home décor line.
Childhood & Early Life
Padma Parvati Lakshmi Vaidynathan was born on September 1, 1970, in Chennai, India. Her father Vaidynathan was an executive with Pfizer, a pharmaceutical company. Her mother, Vijaya, is a retired nurse. Her parents divorced when she was just a two-year-old child. She met her father in India when she was 25. She was always unhappy about the fact that her father had discarded her.
After the divorce, Padma’s mother moved to the US. Lakshmi grew up with her grandparents in Chennai, and later she also migrated to the US to live with her mother in New York. Her mother remarried later. Padma’s native tongue is Tamil.
In 1984, at the age of 14, she was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson syndrome, a rare disorder of the skin and mucous membranes. That same year, she met with a car accident in Malibu, California, on a Sunday afternoon when she was going on a drive with her mother and stepfather. The accident fractured her right hip and badly injured her right upper arm. Her arm was operated on, which left a seven-inch scar.
As a teenager, she was very conscious about her scar. She was bullied and suffered racial taunts from her classmates, which led to internalized self-loathing—an extreme dislike of herself.
She graduated from William Workman High School, Valinda, California. In 1992, she graduated from Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts, with a BA degree with Honors in Theatre Arts.
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Padma Lakshmi began her modeling career at the age of 21 when she was studying in Spain. An agent had discovered her when she was sitting in a café.
She modeled for top designers like Giorgio Armani, Emanuel Ungaro, Gianni Versace, Alberta Ferretti and Ralph Lauren. She also did ad campaigns for Roberto Cavalli and Versus.
While some designers hired her to model their winter lines, which hid her scar in layers, she also worked with top photographer Helmut Newton, who highlighted the scar on her arm. It planted an important message that beauty comes in all colors, shapes, and forms. After Newton's endorsement, other major photographers and designers began hiring her.
Padma became interested in acting in 1999. Her first role was in ‘Figlio di Sandokan, an Italian pirate movie. Next, she did a role in ‘Caraibi’ (Pirates: Blood Brothers), a drama about 17th century pirates. She also hosted Italy's top-rated television show ‘Domenica In.’ In 2001, she did a comical supporting role as a disco singer in ‘Glitter’, an American movie.
In 2002, she starred in ‘Precious Cargo,’ an episode of the science TV series ‘Star Trek: Enterprise’. She portrayed Sean Bean's nemesis Madhuvanthi in the 2004–05 TV series ‘Sharpe's Challenge’.
In 2003, she appeared in the film ‘Boom’ as Shiela Bardez, a super model accused of stealing diamonds. She portrayed the role of Geeta in Paul Mayeda Berges' film ‘The Mistress of Spices’ in 2005. She also made a guest appearance on the NBC series ‘30 Rock’ in 2009, and starred in ‘Whose Line Is It Anyway?’ in 2014.
In 2006, she appeared in ABC's TV series ‘The Ten Commandments’. She also hosts the popular television show ‘Top Chef’, which she joined in 2006. She also serves as an executive producer of the show.
In 2009, she starred in Eels music video for the song ‘That Look You Give That Guy,’ where she played the love interest of Mark Oliver Everett.
Besides modeling and acting, she also writes cookbooks—the first one was ‘Easy Exotic’, a compilation of recipes from different countries. The book made her popular, and she was called to host a Food Network series called ‘Padma's Passport’.
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She also hosted ‘Planet Food’, a British culinary tourism show aired on the Food Network in the US and internationally on the Discovery Channels. It was an hour long special on South India and Spain.
She released her second cookbook, ‘Tangy, Tart, Hot and Sweet’, on October 2, 2007. Her debut memoir, ‘Love, Loss and What We Ate,’ was released on the International's Women's Day on March 8, 2016. She also released the ‘Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs’ in October 2016.
She used to write a syndicated column in ‘The New York Times’, and has also written several articles on style for the American edition of ‘Vogue’ magazine. She wrote a column on style for ‘Harper's Bazaar’ as well.
She launched her jewelry collection in 2009, which she named ‘Padma’. It consisted of 40 jewelry pieces. She also launched two tableware collections—the first is called ‘The Padma Collection,’ which is a line of elegant dinnerware made of Moroccan ceramics and Turkish glass. The second line consists of casual kitchenware called ‘Easy Exotic’. Then she launched ‘Easy Exotic’ line of specialty spices and teas. She also started ‘Padma’s Easy Exotic’, a collection of organic frozen rice, lentils, etc.
Awards & Achievements
Padma Lakshmi has appeared on the covers of many magazines including ‘Vogue India,’ ‘L'Officiel India,’ ‘Cosmopolitan,’ ‘Asian Woman,’ ‘Avenue,’ ‘Industry Magazine,’ ‘Marie Claire India,’ ‘Harper's Bazaar,’ and ‘Newsweek.’
Her cookbook ‘Easy Exotic’ was awarded Best First Book at the 1999 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
In 2007, ‘Top Chef’, the program she hosted, was nominated for the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program. In 2009, she was nominated for the Emmy Award for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program for the same program ‘Top Chef’.
After living together for three years, Padma Lakshmi married novelist Salman Rushdie on April 17, 2004. Rushdie dedicated his novel ‘Fury’ to her. However, on July 2, 2007, the couple filed for divorce.
Padma has a daughter, Krishna Thea Lakshmi-Dell with Adam Dell, a venture capitalist. Krishna was born on February 20, 2010. She has also dated Teddy Forstmann, the ex-chairman and CEO of IMG.
When she was 30, she underwent surgery to remove ovarian cysts. At the age of 36, she was once again diagnosed with endometriosis, which she had suffered in her early adolescence. The disease causes intense pain, cramping, nausea, headache, and excessive blood flow.
Padma felt that women do not want to talk about these symptoms as they feel it’s a private subject. Hence, they are unaware of the disease. She therefore started the Endometriosis Foundation of America, a non-profit organization that aims to increase awareness about the disease and promote legislative advocacy against endometriosis.
She is a global ambassador for ‘Keep a Child Alive’, and has traveled to many places in India on their behalf. She also strongly advocates women's rights.