'I Have No Portion Control!' Padma Lakshmi's Eating and Business Plan
The 'Top Chef' host and author of the new book, The Encyclopedia of Spices & Herbs, breaks down how she built her empire.
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You can learn a lot about Padma Lakshmi's work ethic from stalking her Instagram. Here's the Emmy-nominated Top Chef host pulling an all-nighter on set alongside judge Tom Colicchio, and here she is in Guatemala scouring a spice market -- a passion she's filtered into an exhaustive reference book, The Encyclopedia of Spices & Herbs (out in October).
In one snap, the former model gamely poses for an all-day fashion shoot "with a kilo of sand trapped in my bikini." In the next, she signs copies of her comprehensive memoir, Love, Loss, and What We Ate. And all throughout, she mingles artful culinary pics (the kind that find their way into her cookbooks) with snaps of fluffy rice -- specifically, the Easy Exotic frozen line she created to make any multitasker's life easier.
Yes, she really eats the fare in her foodie photos, as well as every morsel prepared on Top Chef. "I have no portion control!" Lakshmi tells Entrepreneur. But where she might fail in resisting a perfectly fried samosa, she's succeeded in cooking up a unique and multi-flavored career. Herein, Lakshmi's five easy recipes for entrepreneurial prowess.
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1. Push through the open door.
"There was a time when I was working as an actress but I wasn't getting to go up for the parts I really wanted. It was always like an ethnic role. I never reached the point where you get scripts that are more interesting. I mean, look, even Oscar-nominated women actors -- who are Caucasian! -- will tell you the same thing. It's not something that was particular to me. But at the time, my food stuff was going well without me trying at all. It was just happening. So I had to make a real decision about what to pursue. And since then, I've had scripts sent to me or offers to audition -- or even to be directly cast -- but I've refused, because no script ever compelled me enough to go back to it, but also, I just felt like I had to focus and narrow it down. Somebody once said to me, "Push through the open door.' And I think it was a really good piece of advice. When the universe speaks to you, you still have to listen."
2. Keep it personal.
"People will spend a majority of their waking hours at work, so you have to find something you enjoy doing and that you naturally have a deep interest or proclivity towards. I'm naturally drawn to spices because I grew up in India so I've been familiar with them since I was a toddler. Even my [6-year-old] daughter [Krishna] has a little play kitchen with a tiny mortar and pestle, and when I'm cooking I give her a few cloves or green cardamom pods to smash around. And the rice line -- there was never a meal in my childhood that didn't involve rice. We bought it in 25-pound bags. I can't be without rice in the way that probably a lot of middle Americans can't be without meat and potatoes. It's sort of what you grew up with."
3. Trust your own experience.
"I love to travel and taste different foods and I want to take those flavors and replicate dishes for friends and family. So I've always wanted a book like the [Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs]. There's The Food Lover's Companion, which is good, but more general and not as in depth. So I looked at it like, what would I want if I was going to the store to cook for my friends? I hope the book will sell -- I have no idea how much people are interested in spices! But I like to believe that they are because other ingredients are ubiquitous, right? They have chicken all over the world, they have potatoes, peppers, tomatoes -- the thing that makes a dish special or different from any other chicken dish is, what? The seasonings, the spices. To me, that's the most basic element of cooking."
4. Use your downtime.
"My schedule is so erratic, and no two days are alike. I never leave home without a jump rope in my luggage -- because I gain and lose more weight [on Top Chef] than Tom [Colicchio] ever does -- and that's really good exercise, you can do it everywhere. And I'm naturally a night owl, so I'll get a lot of work done after my daughter goes to sleep. Writing is a very difficult thing, it requires a lot of focus. During business hours I get too distracted because the phone is ringing and somebody needs an answer on something. There's always something."
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5. Don't be afraid to ask for help.
"I co-founded a women's health foundation, the Endometriosis Foundation of America, and we have a fundraiser every year. One year we were not making our numbers, we just really needed money to continue with this one program. I had a couple guests on either side of me and one was Christian Slater. I had seen somebody else do this thing at another event so I just turned to him and said, "I know we're not making our numbers. Would you mind if we auctioned off an outgoing message that you could leave on the winner's voicemail?' And he was like, "Yeah, that's good! If we can do it right now, that's fine.' And we wound up making 10 or 12 thousand dollars. And yes, it was an easy ask, and it's for charity -- but I still felt shy about it, because he was an invited guest and I didn't want him to feel like I had invited him and then at the last minute asked for something in return. But he couldn't have been nicer. Sometimes you have to go out on a limb when something is really important to you."