Padma Lakshmi will be fêted during a beloved, lavish Hamptons summer soiree taking place on Saturday, July 28. The host and executive producer of Bravo’s James Beard Award-winning and Emmy award-winning Top Chef, food expert, model, actress, and best-selling author will be honored by the James Beard Foundation during its annual Chefs & Champagne® at Wölffer Estate Vineyard, which will feature 35 chefs, who will offer up sumptuous seasonal tastings, flowing Champagne Boizel and Wölffer Estate wines, and more.
We recently caught up with Lakshmi, who just wrapped up filming for season 16 of Top Chef, about the Bravo hit, the Hamptons, her love affair with cooking, and more.
Congrats on being selected as this year’s Chefs & Champagne honoree! Will this mark your first trip to the Hamptons? If not, do you have any favorite spots or memories from previous time spent here?
PL: Thank you, I’m excited for the event! I’ve spent some time out east every summer for the last several years. The pleasure of being out east to me is to enjoy a different pace of life. I’m somebody who actually prefers to cook at home. So for me, the pleasure of the Hamptons is to shop the farm stands and local fish markets, and figure out what I can do with those ingredients in a home kitchen. Being away from the city crowds is quite sublime. When it’s too hot to cook though I do enjoy eating at Sant Ambroeus, and I’m itching to try the new EMP Summer House.
This season of Top Chef takes the contestants to Kentucky. Are you still filming at the moment? Can you tell us anything about this season?
PL: We just finished filming the 16th season of Top Chef in Kentucky. I had never been there before, so it was wonderful to see a new part of the country. Get ready for some bourbon and bluegrass!
You’ve been hosting the Bravo hit for over 10 years now. What are some of the most memorable meals that you’ve enjoyed?
PL: The thing that has been a great benefit of Top Chef and moving the show with each season is that I get to sample these great cities and states that I never would have had a chance to go to. When you’re there for six weeks, you have a chance to explore in a way that you wouldn’t be able to do as a tourist. I would have to say, some of the most memorable meals for me have been- Ilan Hall’s Spanish fideos dish with chorizo and clams, Michael Voltaggio made squab breast with pistachio cassoulet and mushrooms, just about everything from Kevin Gillespie, and last season Adrienne Cheatham made a spoon bread with sea urchin, buttermilk dashi, ham, caviar and a wheat tuile that was sublime.
And you also have a new show, Spark, on Bluprint? Could you tell us a bit about that?
PL: It’s fantastic, I get to profile different artists and innovators in the creative landscape. The stories are truly inspiring and the artists are doing really cool and unique projects that I think viewers are going to love.
You’ve released multiple cookbooks and hosted several shows about cooking. How did your love affair with cooking begin?
PL: I stumbled into it completely by accident. I had to gain 20 lbs for my first acting role. When I finished filming the movie, I went back to modeling, and wanted to lose the weight in a healthy way. I have always loved to cook, and I just took the fat out of my cooking by making the recipes I loved most as healthy as possible. A small cookbook came out of that endeavor. I thought I did it just on a lark, and never expected it to be much of anything. During my book tour, I appeared on the Food Network a couple of times and they offered me a development deal. The rest as they say, is history.
As a co-founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America, you’re very open about your own struggle with endometriosis, which has been truly inspiring for so many. What are your hopes for the organization?
PL: I’m very proud of the work we’ve accomplished so far and my hopes are to continue to help raise awareness of the disease and to raise funding for relevant research. I didn’t want the next generation of young women to go through what I went through. I’m confident that as we continue to push forward, we’ll continue to make an impact.
Are you working on anything else at the moment?
PL: I do have a few other projects I’m working on at the moment, but never like to discuss projects before they’re finished!
Chefs & Champagne® will commence at 5 p.m. with a VIP Reception, followed by the Chefs & Champagne® Main Event at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $225 for JBF members and $300 for non-members.
Wölffer Estate Vineyard is located at 183 Sagg Road in Sagaponack. For tickets, or more information, visit www.jamesbeard.org.