The Odd Item Padma Lakshmi Used To Collect in Her 20s

Television personality Padma Lakshmi has had a varied career, going from life as a model to an actress and now a food writer and food program host.

In her 20s, she recently shared, her future life steeped in gastronomy was foreshadowed by her attraction to a particular item, of which she grew a beloved collection.

Padma Lakshmi
Padma Lakshmi | Jim Spellman/Getty Images

Padma Lakshmi loved to amass cookbooks in her 20s

Padma Lakshmi, right, in her college years

Cookbooks may seem an unlikely possession for a young woman to turn into a collection, but for Lakshmi, it seems to have always been about food and the eating experience.

“I always loved to cook,” she said. “I always collected [cookbooks]. If I had any disposable income, I would use it to buy cookbooks in my teens and 20s.”

She explained to NPR’s Fresh Air in Sept. 2020 the evolution of her own interest in writing recipes and about food.

“I never intended to have a career in food. I didn’t know anybody who did, so it never crossed my mind. And I was terrified because I’d never written anything, you know, beyond an article for my school paper.”

“And so I wrote three recipes. I remember I typed three recipes out. I didn’t even have a computer then; I did this on an electric typewriter.”

Lakshmi says she’s a writer above all else

Although her career took off once she became a model and then an actress, for Lakshmi, she’s a writer above any other label. Growing up in India with her grandparents, the show host credits her grandfather with instilling in her a love for the written word.

“My grandfather was one of the most well-read people I have ever met in my life to this day,” she told NPR. “He was somebody who quoted Wadsworth, you know, verbatim by heart. He loved books. He loved Shakespeare. He loved Americana. He had traveled through America in the ’50s and ’60s for work. And so he had a real affinity for American culture. And through him, I have my love of books and of being a writer.”

Lakshmi summed up how she views herself professionally.

“You know, if you asked me, you know, of all the things I do, if I could say what am I in one word, I would say I hope I’m a writer.”

Lakshmi mingles food with words

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This can be vegetarian or you can add shrimp

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The mother of one realized true happiness for her was found in bringing together her two loves: food and writing.

Her 2016 memoir, Love, Loss, and What We Ate is a chronicle of her life, infused with the unforgettable meals, ingredients, textures, and tastes that accented her experiences along the way. Meals such as her grandmother’s Kumquat and Ginger Chutney that Lakshmi forced herself to make while recovering from her break-up from her husband, Salman Rushdie, as well as from endometriosis surgery.

“I made a big batch of kumquat chutney…the fresh chilies and tart citrus jolting my palate free from stupor…I have always associated cooking with womanhood,” she wrote. “At that moment, in August 2007, when I did not feel so womanly, with my insides carved out and my marriage a failure, the only thing I could take pleasure in was that golden sauce.”