Padma Lakshmi really is the host with the most. Top Chef just wouldn’t be the same without her horrified reactions, thoughtful commentary or that signature attitude during Restaurant Wars. Of course, she’s beloved by pretty much anyone who has ever had anything to do with the show, which is just another testament to her overall skills.
In honour of the newest season of Top Chef, we thought we’d take a stroll down memory lane and revisit some of the personality’s brightest moments from over the years – on-screen and off.
Padma was born in India but her parents divorced when she was two years old. Since divorce was frowned upon in the country, her mom went to the United States. Padma stayed behind with her grandparents until she was four, at which point she and her mom settled in New York City. Although the personality was a vegetarian until her teenage years, it was there that she started getting a real appreciation for all kinds of different foods.
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A life-changing car crash
Plenty of fans have noticed the scar on Padma’s right arm, which is the result of a car accident she was in when she was 14. At the time, she fractured a hip and shattered her arm, and it took surgery to fix the limb. For years Padma was self-conscious about that scar, but when famed photog Helmut Newton fell in love with it, her modelling career soared to new heights.
Figuring out a path
Padma was a famous model (at one point she was known as India’s first supermodel), but she was never convinced that was her only path. So she tried acting (watch for her in Mariah Carey’s Glitter!), singing and writing. In 1999, she released her first cookbook, Easy Exotic: A Model’s Low-Fat Recipes From Around the World. In other words, she’s always known her way around a kitchen.
A high-profile marriage
Back then the media was super fixated on Padma’s dating life, despite all of her accomplishments. We’re talking about her eventual marriage to author Salman Rushdie, of course. They met in 1999 and divorced in 2007. Part of the headlines were due to the fact that Rushdie was twice Padma’s age, and he was married to someone else when they first met.
Padma Joins Top Chef
You can’t think of Top Chef without picturing Padma. But there was a time when the host with the most wasn’t the one helming all of the culinary action. In the series’ first season, it was Katie Lee Biegel from Food Network Canada’s The Kitchen, who oversaw the competitors and judges. Padma came in for the second season and the rest, as they say, is history.
Breakfast in bed
You can’t talk about memorable Padma moments without bringing up one of the most memorable from the show itself: when she and guest Nigella Lawson requested a Quickfire challenge breakfast in bed. The Season 6 episode was perfectly aligned with the season’s Las Vegas theme, plus we can probably all agree that Padma rocked that robe.
Padma has always been open about her struggles with endometriosis and even co-founded the Endometriosis Foundation of America. So when she confirmed her first pregnancy with then-boyfriend Adam Dell and gave birth to a healthy girl named Krishna in February 2010, fans were thrilled.
Please pack your knives…
Padma’s jokes don’t always land with the contestants, but boy do they land with viewers. Case in point? In Season 8 when Padma played a bit of a mean one on fan favourite contestant (and eventual winner) Richard Blais. In the Elimination, she told the chef to pack his knives, because he was going to the Bahamas. “Why would you do that to me, you know I’m crazy to begin with,” he later told the cameras.
All the sausage
NFL star Rob Gronkowski probably didn’t know what he was signing up for in Season 12 when the show crafted a sausage Quickfire challenge in honour of his favourite food. While he knew he’d get some good eats, Padma’s flirtations were the real talking point. Not only did she tell him to call her “honey” and ask if she could call him “Rob” instead of “Gronk,” but when he told the contestants he needed a big sausage, she looked at him without a missing a beat. “Me too,” she smiled, in the best Top Chef innuendo of all time.
Padma the officiant
This host’s popularity is so off-the-charts that when couples had a chance to be married by her in the show’s 13th season, 25 couples signed up. Yup, the California season featured Padma marrying 25 gay couples in a giant celebration of love. And naturally, she did a killer job sending all of them off into holy matrimony.
Back to the books
Padma has always put pen to paper, but in 2016 she released her pet project, Love, Loss and What We Ate. The book was an instant hit. It was a New York Times bestseller and won in the Best Lifestyle, Body & Soul category at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. She’s sold plenty of copies since, solidifying the host’s place in the food world.
One of the best parts of any culinary competition is when the personalities flip roles with the contestants. So we loved it in Season 14, when Padma shilled for her organic rice line and put on that chef’s jacket to whip up a meal for the final four chefs and their families. At that point in the competition, who wouldn’t want a break and to be pampered for a little?
Of all the Padmas in our lives, Champagne Padma may be our favourite. She emerged in Season 17 during a Quickfire, in which the contestants tried to create good airplane food. Padma was definitely tipsy for the whole thing, yet it made her even more endearing. And thus, her new nickname was born.
An activist’s life
Outside of the show, Padma uses her platform to fight for the things she believes in, including feminism, women’s rights, immigration and refugees. It’s caused her personal strife with very vocal haters, but we admire how this woman has always stood her ground and stuck with her convictions.
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