Rebecca Suhrawardi in The Caravan:
Padma Lakshmi had asked me to meet her at a small Italian café on New York City’s Lower East Side, the neighborhood she calls home. The former model turned culinary icon of the hit US cooking show Top Chef has lived off-and-on in the city since she emigrated from India, nearly 40 years ago.
When I arrived at the café shortly before our 4.30 pm appointment, I was surprised to find it had not yet opened for the day. Inside the intimate space, staff were slowly setting up the bar and wiping down surfaces. Most of the chairs were turned over on tables from the previous night’s cleaning. We were unexpected, so I took two spaces at the otherwise vacant counter.
Lakshmi soon appeared, dressed in the New York uniform of all black, and quickly warned against any physical contact: she was recovering from a bout of bronchitis. (“Still sick in my pajamas. But the meds are kicking in,” and “This is me now … Bronchitis and bed ridden!!! I hate being sick!!!” she had tweeted the previous week.) Despite the illness, she was radiant—skin dewy and smooth, her sculptural cheekbones even more striking atop the pedestal of her long, slim neck. With hardly any makeup on, fluttering black lashes, and her hair in two long braids, she was even more of natural beauty than I had expected. “Nothing makes me happier than an Indian girl who tweets at me, or somebody on the street who stops me and says, ‘Thank you so much, because I really didn’t have people who look like me, no other brown faces that love lipstick and literature too’,” Lakshmi told me. More: