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July 6, 1999
Model Lakshmi Discovers She Can Make More Than A Decent Bowl of Rice
Padma Lakshmi remembers her grandfather looking at pictures of potential brides for her uncle: "Yes, she is very pretty, but can she make a decent bowl of rice?"
Lakshmi has modeled the creations of Giorgio Armani, Valentino, Isaac Mizrahi and Sonia Rykiel in the past six years, and has worked with photographers such as Helmut Newton, Aldo Fallai and Fabrizio Ferri.
The model, who has been featured in such magazines as Vogue, Elle, Mirabella and Glamour, is now going to be famous as a gourmet cook
One of the most sought after models today, she is the author of the just published, Easy Exotic: A Model's Low-Fat Recipes from Around the World.
"Never underestimate the power of a good bowl of warm food," she notes. "Indeed, at times when my professional life got unbearable, my spirit saved the day."
Lakshmi, who refuses to reveal her age, has adapted many recipes so that they have 200 to 300 calories less than their traditional versions. The recipes, including Wild Mushroom Couscous and Bali Baked Fish, are from the places Padma Lakshmi lived and worked.
"Travelling from city to city during collections has quite a grueling effect on body and spirit," she writes in the preface of her book published in America by Hyperion, a division of Walt Disney. "It was during these times I began to rediscover my skills as a chef."
Making recipes from her childhood in Tamil Nadu and Kerala made her less homesick, she notes. "And controlling my diet through healthier versions of classic recipes kept my waistline in check."
Lakshmi, whose first film, The Caribbean, a $ 6 million budget Italian-American venture, has just been completed, offers in her book not only recipes from half a dozen countries including Morocco but also nostalgic stories.
She also tells us about her progress as a model.
Lakshmi wanted to be a model at 17 but her mother said she would still be beautiful at 21 when she would graduate from college.
"She was always right," says Lakshmi, who graduated from Clark University in Worcester in Massachusetts. No surprise then that she has dedicated the cookbook to her Amma.
She used to resent her mother "dragging" her across Tamil Nadu and Kerala to "show her off" to the relatives.
"Needless to say, I had quickly become a very irritable girl."
But her weariness from being driven in a car over bumpy roads would melt away when the family would stop by a roadside restaurant and the waiter, wearing nothing more than a banian and a veshti brought a chipped enamel bowl of rice covered with chicken stewed in coconut.
Lakshmi's cookbook owes a lot to some of the Hollywood actors (no names, please) for whom she has cooked her version of Spanish, French and Indian delicacies. They had mentioned her to Harvey Weinstein, the co-chairman of Miramax Films, the producer and distributor of such award-winning hits as Shakespeare in Love and The English Patient.
When she met Weinstein at a movie premiere, and told him that her dream was to write a cookbook, he got back to her within a week, urging her to talk to an editor at Hyperion, in which Miramax has a direct stake. Within a year and half she had the book hitting the biggest book shops across America.
And now, she is waiting for a script from Miramax.
Padma Lakshmi's Tandoori Chicken Salad
Preparation Time: 25 minutes.
For the yogurt marinade:
For the salad:
1. Make the marinade: In a bowl combine all ingredients. Arrange chicken in a shallow dish, add the marinade, and stir to coat with the marinade. Cover and chill while preparing the vegetables.
2. Make the salad: In a large bowl combine all salad ingredients.
3. In a non-stick skillet set over moderately high heat, warm the oil until it is hot. Add the chicken and marinade and cook, stirring, until the chicken is no longer pink. (Yogurt will separate). Let simmer just until cooked.
4. Transfer chicken together with pan juices to salad bowl and toss to combine. Add lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.
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