A-Listers

Padma Lakshmi: ‘I Don’t Really Feel Like I’m Single’

by admin
Wednesday, November 7, 2012
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Padma Lakshmi has had quite a year. The model, mother and Top Chef host has been traveling non stop, and only just returned to her East Village apartment from the Emmys in Los Angeles, where her hit show was nominated for three awards. Lakshmi won raves for her strapless tangerine fit-and-flare Monique Lhuillier gown. She looked like a goddess, and playful pics emerged of Modern Family’s Jesse Tyler Ferguson peeking out from underneath her voluminous hem in the green room.


Lakshmi is curled up on her velvet sofa in a black silk strapless jumpsuit. Sounds fancy, but Lakshmi wears it like the rest of us wear yoga pants. She sits with her bare feet up on the sofa, switching them from butterfly-style to crossed.


She is, in a word, beautiful. No makeup, no Spanx, just dewy skin and long, jet-black hair. Anyone looking at her understated makeup and hair (to balance the gown’s vibrant hue), would think it was red-carpet business as usual for this model-turned-author-actress-reality star. But in real reality, Lakshmi was sweating it a little bit. She had just wrapped filming for Top Chef’s 10th season in Seattle and was carrying an extra 10 pounds. She hadn’t had time to start her traditional post-season diet yet.


Such weight gain is almost de rigeur now, nine seasons into her Top Chef hosting duties. Not that she’s complaining. The Bravo hit, which starts up Nov. 7, has been a natural way to bridge her modeling and acting background with her love of food. Born in Madras, India, and then raised between New York and India when her parents divorced, Lakshmi was discovered as a model when she was 18. She soon became one of Helmut Newton’s favorite subjects—he often trained his lens on the long scar on her arm, the result of a car accident when she was younger. She starred in a few movies and television shows before penning two cookbooks, Easy Exotic and Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet. But it was when she brought together her beauty, brains and tastebuds on Top Chef that she really became a favorite outside the fashion set.


She quickly reeled viewers in who loved the idea of watching a bona fide model chowing down on fried bits and pieces—on camera, no less. She reeled in contestants, celebs and normally crotchety chefs because, as Andy Cohen put it, “She’s great to look at, fun to listen to and natural on camera.”

Cohen, Bravo’s executive vice president of development and talent, Top Chef producer and host of Watch What Happens: Live, has a playful rapport with Lakshmi. During his post-season-mortem wrap-up with the entire season’s cast, he inevitably pulls out chef contestants mooning over Lakshmi. “There was a breakfast-in-bed challenge, and a lot of guys were going nuts,” he recalls. “The male chefs sometimes have dreams about her. Who can blame them?”


And women love her just as much. Regular Top Chef judge and author Gail Simmons remembers noticing Lakshmi before they had even met, when she was working for Jeffrey Steingarten at Vogue and someone had sent them a copy of Lakshmi’s Easy Exotic. “I remember thinking how great it was to see a beautiful woman who loved to cook,” says Simmons. When Simmons began hosting her own show, Just Desserts, she looked to Lakshmi for advice. “She was the first person I went to with questions and insecurities about how I would do.”


As her friends and colleagues would argue, Lakshmi is the perfect date. “She can discuss the best restaurants and recipes in the same breath as she can argue politics, or talk about a designer’s fall collection,” says Simmons. “She takes a profound interest in the world around her.”

Lest anyone question her culinary chops, Eric Ripert, the Michelin star-winning chef behind Le Bernadin, is quick to note that she has a very refined palate and deep knowledge of food.


The show has also been a constant in her life of late. At 42, Lakshmi seems to finally be settling peacefully into her role as mother, entrepreneur, author and TV goddess. But it’s been a bit of rough ride getting here, one that has played out painfully in the gossip columns, starting with her 2004 marriage to, and 2007 divorce from, author Salman Rushdie. Next came news of her pregnancy with daughter Krishna, now two-and-a-half, a custody battle with Krishna’s biological father Adam Dell, and a relationship with Teddy Forstmann, the billionaire philanthropist and CEO of IMG who was 30 years Lakshmi’s senior and who passed away in November 2011.


Lakshmi is open and honest about her four-year on-off relationship with Forstmann and the impact he had on her life. “I don’t really feel like I’m single right now. I feel like the person I’m with is dead. I miss him every day,” she says.


Was he the love of her life?


“That’s a big statement. He’s certainly the best thing that ever happened to me. The most valuable part of Teddy was his enormous heart. The more people gossiped publicly about me, the tighter he held my hand,” Lakshmi explains. “Not only privately, but publicly. He understood me in all my flaws and subtleties. His presence in my life was resolute, consistent, unwavering and loving. And that’s what a real man is. I have no problem saying, with great humility, that Teddy was the man in my life who possessed the greatest emotional wisdom. He had more manhood in his pinky fingernail than most men.”


** To Read Padma’s FULL interview click here for our November digital issue

— Written by Nandini D’Souza Wolfe


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