Though her cookbook Tangy Hot Tart and Sweet came out more than a year ago, Padma Lakshmi appeared at Whole Foods Bowery on Saturday for a signing and, echoing last week's Top Chef elimination challenge, did her own demo. Padma made a sweet-potato-and-lima-bean dish, which the author herself described as “really forgiving.” Good choice for a demo, though it certainly wasn’t as pressure-filled as the one on Top Chef: Padma’s presentation lasted about twenty minutes, and she had an assistant to manhandle the stove. (And to terrify a few times, Padma leaned over and micromanaged the assistant’s stirring.) During the audience Q&A;, Padma reiterated her love for La Esquina and coconut milk, which she “joneses for … like people jones for coffee.” The host also noted that, because she is around for the Quickfire challenges, she is the only judge on Top Chef who eats every dish “the vessel from which Top Chef flows.” With that image in mind, we asked her about the season so far.
How would you have performed on the food-demo challenge on Top Chef?
I like demos, because it allows you to cook and talk. I mean, here we have a lot more time, so it’s okay. I actually prefer to do the demo instead of have the assistant. This is the first time I’ve done it this way, and it actually befuddled me a little bit.
What’s your favorite Top Chef dish so far this season?
The corn soup, that really beautiful soup that Jamie made. I like really beautiful, simple food. I don’t like it when people try to be clever just for clever’s sake.
Food aside, are there some contestants that you like based on their personalities?
By the time I got to really know the contestants, the season was almost over. And that was good, because I try to keep my distance from them whenever they are not in front of the judge’s table, because I really don’t want that to color my thinking. It usually happens in the beginning of the season, when the contestants don’t know yet, they’ll come up to you and they’ll say, "Hey, nice skirt" or something. A producer will come up, very discreetly, and say, "Step away from the judge."
Do you stay in touch with any former contestants from prior seasons?
I see Sam and Ilan sometimes, but I don’t really keep in touch with any of the contestants. I have gone to Le Cirque … where Andrew cooks. If they’re in the kitchen, they’ll come out and say hi to me.