Padma Lakshmi has been the host of Bravo’s “Top Chef” since 2006. She is an internationally known food expert, best-selling author, actress, model, television host, and executive producer.
Lakshmi will be the guest of honor at this summer’s Chefs & Champagne event, held Saturday, July 28, to benefit the James Beard Foundation. JBF is the country’s preeminent culinary organization. One of the most highly anticipated culinary events of summer, it will be held at Wölffer Estate Vineyard in Sagaponack.
Indy caught up with Lakshmi to discuss the event, the East End, and her love of all things culinary.
How did you become involved with the James Beard Foundation?
Well I’ve admired the work of the foundation for years. When I was in college and could occasionally splurge on a purchase, it was always a cookbook that won a James Beard Foundation Media Award, because I knew it was a sure mark that the book would be of quality.
I have also had the pleasure of attending dinners at the Beard House over the years by chefs and it’s always been stellar. And this past year, I was a presenter at the Media Awards here in New York.
Do you have any favorite places to eat on the East End?
I don’t eat out in the Hamptons all that often — we usually cook at home. It’s such a relaxing place to be with family away from the crowds that the only places I wind up going to is the Green Thumb farm stand and Citarella for meat and cheese! I enjoy eating at Sant Ambroeus once in a while when it’s too hot to cook, and I’m itching to try the new EMP Summer House.
What are some of your favorite summer dishes?
My daughter and her father like to go catch crabs down at the beach, and when they bring them back we make a big pot of crab curry. I also love the bounty of produce available every summer — whether it’s stone fruit like red or black plums, juicy peaches, fresh greens, or corn that’s been roasted on the grill and rubbed with a little bit of lime and smoked paprika.
How does it feel to have just filmed the 16th season of ‘Top Chef’?
I feel very fortunate. We filmed in Kentucky, which I have never been to before, so it was wonderful to see a new part of the country.
How did your love of food begin?
I always loved to taste new flavors even when I was a toddler. I hung out in the kitchen with the women in my family and just started to absorb things, I guess. I loved all the sights and smells and overheard all the family gossip. Then, as I grew, I always loved to cook for friends around me.
I liked experimenting in the kitchen. But I never thought about it as a profession. I stumbled into it completely by accident. I had to gain 20 pounds for my first acting role. When I finished filming the movie, I went back to modeling, and wanted to lose the weight in a healthy way. I have always loved to cook, and I just took the fat out of my cooking by making the recipes I loved most as healthy as possible.
A small cookbook came out of that endeavor. I thought I did it just on a lark, and never expected it to be much of anything. During my book tour, I appeared on the Food Network a couple of times and they offered me a development deal. The rest as they say, is history.
Tell us about some of the other projects you are involved in.
I’m an ambassador for the ACLU, for immigration rights, and women’s reproductive health. I also co-founded the Endometriosis Foundation of America, which raises awareness for this devastating illness. I have a few other projects I’m working on at the moment, but never like to discuss projects before they’re finished!
For ticket to Chefs & Champagne visit http://www.jamesbeard.org.