Esquire: What I’ve Learned: Padma Lakshmi

"Sometimes I don’t think you should leave it to God. I think God has better things to do than get you that job promotion."


By Madison Vain | . Nov 2, 2021



JENNIFER LIVINGSTON

At 51, Padma Lakshmi is a food industry titan, having anchored each season of Bravo's Top Chef since 2006, two seasons of Hulu's Taste the Nation, and authoring three cookbooks. Also a memoirist, her first children's book, Tomatoes For Neela, released earlier this fall.


A great dinner party doesn’t have anything to do with well-appointed linens or shiny silver platters. It starts with a good guest list. You want people who have some touchstone in common but don’t necessarily know each other, people who will enjoy meeting each other.


I like to leave things to the last minute. I cook most of the meal, go have a shower, have one glass of wine before anybody gets there. And then when people start arriving, have them help make a salad together—just to break the ice.


There were many aspects of quarantine I didn’t mind. Stillness was one of them. But the problem with that stillness is that it was accompanied by such anxiety.


I didn't miss going out. I didn’t miss a lot of the things the pandemic took away from me. I learned that I need very little, except for the people I love.

I would love to write more children’s books. I think children can understand complex things so long as you explain them in words they can wrap themselves around.


I remember roller-skating all over New York City in the late seventies and eighties as a child. I have seen the opulent New York, and I have seen the grungy New York. I’ve lived in Queens, uptown, and now downtown. New York is only interesting when you have a diversity of people who can afford to live there. More and more, that’s not the case.


Like anything powerful, beauty is a double-edged sword.


The biggest thingI hope I can foster in Krishna, my daughter, is to listen to her gut. It’s something my mother taught me when I was very young, and I hope I can cultivate that muscle—because it is a muscle.


I don't get a badge for Good Indian Motherhood if my daughter suddenly parrots everything back in Hindi or Tamil. Culture is a respect for the family, not whether she wears Indian clothes or has a bindi.


We gaslight young women. We expect them to be smart and sexy and nice and ambitious—but not too ambitious.


Like anything powerful, beauty is a double-edged sword.


I've actually started pulling back on my Twitter. I’m interested in using the voice I have appropriately, but at the same time, it can be a lot of noise.


Sometimes I don’t think you should leave it to God. I think God has better things to do than get you that job promotion.


Growing up as an immigrant child, between two cultures, allowed me to learn to code-switch. It was useful when I started working in Europe. It made me more broad-minded; it taught me languages.



Lakshmi has lived through many iterations of New York City, and has concerns for its future. As she says, "New York is only interesting when you have a diversity of people who can afford to live there. More and more, that’s not the case." MICHAEL COHENGETTY IMAGES

Food is an easy gateway to the rest of a culture.


What am I most afraid of? Being a bad mom.


I never felt pressured to have a conventional family, because that did not work for me. I saw my mother feel a lot of shame because she was a divorcée in the early seventies—it’s why we came to America.


I don't want to be cynical—if it gives somebody happiness, great—but for me, the whole idea of standing in front of a room with a bunch of people to talk about how much you love each other . . . who cares?


You can have your heart broken at any age. You’re so sure that this is going to work, but then it doesn’t.


Money hasn't changed me. I still have the same anxieties I had when I didn’t have the resources I have now.


It was a very rash decision to write the op-ed [about being raped at age sixteen], but it was one I don’t regret. I needed to, because another woman needed it for support. There’s no upside to coming forward. The only upside is what happens for the women who come after you.


I feel guilty that I didn’t take pleasure more when I was younger.


Trauma doesn't go away. It only becomes manageable if we deal with the pain of it.


Growing older gracefully means having a keen curiosity about learning things about the world that you didn’t know yesterday, no matter how many yesterdays you’ve had.


I don't feel guilty taking pleasure in things anymore.

The best utensil in the kitchen? The wooden spoon.

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