New York Post, June 2, 1999
MENUS FROM A MODEL COOK
By CYNTHIA KILIAN
When Padma Lakshmi walks by, people notice. Especially the Y-chromosome types. There's not a man in a business suit who doesn't practically sustain whiplash straining to get a better look at the willowy, raven-haired beauty gliding through Midtown in her miniskirt.
The guys in the Mister Softee truck shout, 'You are so-o-o-o fine! Free ice cream for you!''
Lakshmi, known professionally as Padma, smiles, unfazed. She pads the pavement with The Post in lizard-skin Prada sandals that she swears are 'really comfortable.'' It's the kind of foot gear that would cripple an ordinary pedestrian.
Padma, you see, is a model. She's posed for Vogue, Mirabella and Elle, and has worked with Armani, Versace and Lauren. The surprising thing is, she has also penned a just-released book called 'Easy Exotic: A Model's Low-Fat Recipes From Around the World.''
That's right. Here's a model who not only eats, she cooks - for other models.
'I wrote the book because my girlfriends started asking me for recipes,'' she explains. 'It was very easy for me, because these are the dishes that I make at home that people asked me for the most often.'' (It emerges Padma has often played host to 'homesick'' models who find themselves alone in a strange city during a shoot.)
Having recently given up her New York apartment, 'home'' for Padma is currently Milan or Los Angeles.
But because modeling has taken her all over the world, her book is filled with dishes from India, Morocco, Asia, Spain, Italy and France, along with personal stories about them. The recipes are quick to cook, she says, because 'I'm on my feet all day and I don't want to spend three hours in the kitchen, but I still want that fish dish I tasted in Bali or that tagine I tasted in Morocco. I think that what's good about the book is that it gives you very simple versions of very exotic foods.''
Over lunch at Madras Mahal on Lexington Avenue, she demonstrates she knows how to eat a dosa - an Indian crepe - the native way. 'I love eating with my hands,'' she tells The Post. 'There's something very sensual. I think food tastes better when you eat it with your hands.
'I don't buy the theory that models don't eat,'' she adds. 'I've never seen a model starve herself. All models who are worth anything eat, because our schedules are so hectic. It's what we eat. I love cheese, but I don't eat it every day. I don't eat fried food. This is a special treat for me.'' For her 'the key is to be moderate, and to understand your body.''
The dishes in 'Easy Exotic'' follow this healthy philosophy. Padma says she'd rather eat light meals often than sit down to a heavy plateful. Hence, her recipes include a Provencal tomato-potato stew that has 159 calories and 5 grams of fat per serving. Farfalle pasta with red, yellow and green peppers tallies in at 333 calories and 3 fat grams. Bali baked fish has 191 calories and 4 grams of fat.
After lunch we cross the street to the spice emporium Kalustyan's. They're delighted to see Padma, whose picture hangs over the takeout counter, and the feeling is mutual. 'If I must pick only one store in the world where I could shop, it would be Kalustyan's,'' she gushes on the final page of her book, recalling fond childhood memories of the place.
That youth was spent shuttling between her grandmother's house in India and her single mother's New York home.
'My mother came to the United States but I remained back in India,'' she recalls. 'I would spend one year here and there. My mother was divorced, and she was trying to make a life for herself. My grandmother thought it would be easier for her if she didn't have a daughter in tow.''
Her mom worked her way up to become the head nurse in radiation therapy at Sloan-Kettering. 'She worked on the Shah of Iran,'' Padma recalls matter-of-factly. 'That's another reason I was sent back. I think my mother actually received a couple of death threats on the phone. She was very concerned, because she was a single mother, and I was coming home from school. She didn't want me to be in any kind of jeopardy.''
Padma's fascination with food started in India. 'I was always hanging around my grandmother,'' she says, 'always clinging to her sari, always in the kitchen. I would sit on the floor when [the women] were chatting, when they were shelling peas or grating coconut. I think it seemed natural to me. It seemed very feminine. It seemed very important. I felt very grown-up sitting in their circle of women, whispering all sorts of things.''
And though she was raised vegetarian, somewhere along the line she became a carnivore. 'I would say it changed in my teens. I would go to my friends' houses. At first it would be pepperoni on pizza, and lunch meat, and things that didn't look like meat. Then slowly, slowly I started getting curious about the taste. Then I started traveling, and I would see all these wonderful foods and everybody eating so hungrily that I wanted to try it.''
You would think that with Padma's looks and brains she'd be seriously involved with someone. Instead she shows off a knockout diamond ring she bought for herself when she returned a special one to her ex-fiance.
'No, I'm single. I was with a man for a long time, and we were engaged. We are no longer together. I'm completely single, much to the dismay of all of my family members.''
But 'I think I'd make a good catch,'' she quickly adds, 'because I can cook.''
Back to cookbook section
Back to Sawnet Bookshelf
Back to Sawnet