Padma Lakshmi may be an absolute ace food competition judge now but there was a time when the Top Chef host felt like an absolute faker, or as she puts it, she went through a bout of “impostor syndrome.”
Find out how she got her gig on Top Chef and what it took to get her through her episode of doubt.
Lakshmi’s start on ‘Top Chef’
When the 49-year-old got her start on the cooking competition, she wasn’t sure she wanted to be on a reality show. She had already published her own cookbook, Easy Exotic: A Model’s Low-Fat Recipes From Around the World in 1999.
She had been asked to join the show in its first season but had to decline because of her busy schedule, and the spot went to Katie Lee (at the time, Katie Lee Joel). Once the show started its second season, the producers once again asked Lakshmi to come on, and this time she agreed.
“Padma is the perfect fit for this show,” the Bravo president at the time, Lauren Zalaznick, said. “She is an absolute food fanatic, and she is both very intelligent and very emotional about food. I think she’s a magnet, both by her intellect and looks.”
How modeling led to Lakshmi’s current role
As is the case for most people and most careers, the journey is not a linear one. Getting to Point B from Point A can take many detours and side streets. Such was the case for the mother of one, who was a former model and somewhere along the way became an acclaimed author, host, and actress.
“I went to college not for anything having to do with food,” she said in her 2015 Jubilee Talk. “I was a theater student. I studied theater and American literature and I was studying abroad in Spain. . . and started modeling. I figured out I could make a good amount of money pretty much by standing still.”
“People don’t realize this, but my career as a model directly influenced what I do today. I credit my modeling career with my career in food. It allowed me to travel all over the world, taste the world, and explore places I never would have gotten the opportunity to go to, like France, Bali.”
Lakshmi’s struggle with ‘impostor syndrome’
Surprising to hear, Lakshmi felt out of her element on Top Chef. On the other hand, it is understandable. She did not graduate from a culinary institute or have any kind of formal schooling in anything foodie. She was chosen by Bravo Network because of her ability to speak and write about food with such passion and sensuality.
“I think the biggest thing that moved the needle for me was to give myself permission to learn on the job and think, ‘That’s OK!,’ she continued in her Jubilee talk. “On the first season of Top Chef, I suffered from impostor syndrome. I didn’t have [restaurant cooking experience]. I thought, I’ll just be a really good host.”
A Top Chef colleague unknowingly gave her confidence the boost it needed.
“Somewhere along there, and he probably doesn’t even know it and we’re friends, I heard Eric Ripert say to another chef, ‘No, Padma has a really sensitive palate, like one of the most sensitive palates of anyone I’ve ever met!,’ ” she said.
“I held on to that. Any time I felt insecure or insufficient, which I did a lot on that set, all I had to do was rely on what I did know rather than what I didn’t know.”
It’s amazing what a word of encouragement will do for one’s day – and career.