A FEMINA INTERVIEW: PADMA LAKSHMI ON FOOD, FAME AND BOOKS
PHOTOGRAPHS: INEZ AND VINOODH
Her debut cookbook Easy Exotic won the Gourmand World Cookbook Award for Best First Book,
and her recently released memoir Love, Loss And What We Ate is garnering both critical acclaim and bestseller status across the world. Padma Lakshmi talks to Sheila Kumar about her new book
There is a faint note of wistfulness running all through the book. Do you embrace that emotion or challenge it?
Actually, I don’t think that was the intention at all. It was important to me to be balanced and also illustrate the points of view that others were coming in with, so I tried to have as much empathy for whatever or whoever I was writing about. But yes, the book is certainly nostalgic about some parts, especially the early parts of my life. Then again, this would be true for anyone writing with openness about very deep and personal issues.
Your honest and direct style is both attractive and startling. Was that difficult, to bare your personal life to the public gaze?
It was certainly a challenge, but it was important to me to not write a celebrity tell- all or a fluff piece. I wanted to write a book that I would like to read, something I could have given my 25- year- old self. I wanted to be honest and in return, I was able to look back on the last decade of my life and really learn from my experiences. I also wanted to talk about endometriosis, which is a disease that affects over 12% of women of reproductive age. I couldn’t do that without describing the more intimate details of my life and how it has affected me.
What is the ambition you are driven by? You appear to carry it lightly but it is there, nevertheless. Is it a bid to prove yourself?
My ambition really comes from a statement my grandfather once made. He said, “What are you doing to water the tree of life?” He taught me that you should always use your skills and the benefits you have been given to make a mark, to do something with what you’ve been gifted in this world, to make it better somehow. Having garnered success in my career means that I have the resources to help my family, to start a women’s health organization and to employ other people who depend on me for their living. To use what you’ve got to positively influence and serve the community you live in is the highest use of one’s efforts. That is where my ambition comes from. I wanted him to be proud of what I have done with all that I am lucky enough to have been given.
Clichéd question: If you had to live your life over again, would you opt for other choices?
Truthfully, I wouldn’t change anything. Every experience I went through, even the most difficult and trying ones, have all helped sculpt me into the person I am today. They’ve allowed me to grow and learn. Without them them, I don’t think I would be the same person so these experiences, even the tough ones, are very dear to me.
Do you still feel an outsider, after all these years, and after having carved a significant niche for yourself?
I do when I am in a new situation, which I think is healthy to put oneself in now and then, to grow. But carving a niche for yourself makes it easier to act from a place of confidence and strength. So I’m happy I have been able to do that. It calms the insecure skinny little kid that still dwells inside of me.
What would you say is your comfort food?
I talk about this in the memoir, my comfort food would be kichdi. It`s a comfort food that I have described as the Indian chicken noodle soup. It`s warm and nourishing, not to mention very healthy if you follow my recipe. I invert the traditional amount of rice and lentils so I put two parts lentils to one part rice. I also add a ton of vegetables. I eat it at least once a week, if not more, at home.