“Top Chef” judge, cookbook author and former model Padma Lakshmi took a timeout to tell TODAY.com about what it takes to be the ultimate host, working with new judges on “Top Chef” and why she's not sweating being offered money to get off a stage.
You’re judging the Sterling Ultimate Host competition. What are the characteristics of a great host? Any tips?
The thing that distinguishes a special party from just a normal get together is deciding on a theme and carrying that thread throughout all aspects of the evening. For instance, if you’re doing a fall get together, it’s nice to design a menu with what’s in season as well as comforting foods that we want to eat as the weather gets colder. Also, a décor that reminds us of the season’s beautiful colors. This can be as simple as decorating with beautiful branches and bunches of spices twined together with some fresh cut flowers. This is also an inexpensive way to decorate the table rather than the traditional, tall floral arrangements that you typically order from a florist. Also, when cooking dishes it’s nice to use the season’s mulling spices in a pumpkin soup or a pork roast studded with cloves.
What’s the single worst thing a host can do?
The single worst thing a host can do is overbook and under plan.
There are two new judges on this upcoming season of “Top Chef” – Hugh Acheson and Emeril Lagasse. What was it like working with them?
Fantastic! They couldn’t be more different but definitely equally as fun. Hugh is irreverent, sweet, witty and so easy to work with. Emeril is a big culinary teddy bear! There is no doubt as to why he has reached such heights in his career because he is so kind and easy going and is unable to say a bad thing about anyone. He will always find something positive to say. It’s lovely to see someone so great be so humble.
This is the first time “Top Chef” is taking place in the South – in Texas. Can you dish on what that experience was like?
Hot, very hot -- Texas in July! There are lots of words I could use to describe it but it was too hot to think of anything else.
On a night spent relaxing at home, what’s your go-to comfort food and wine-of-choice?
I like a beautiful slab of slowly braised brisket paired with a nice, bold red wine.
Who is your kitchen crush?
[WD-50 chef and owner] Wylie Dufresne because he brings out my inner food nerd!
You were recently speaking at an event, Moth Stories, when an audience member offered $1,000 for you to wrap up your comments. Can you tell us what happened there?
Thanks for asking. It was in the context of trying to raise money for a great non-profit New York organization. I told the audience that I would match every donation and of course when someone says I’ll give you $1,000. I said, great we’ll take it!
You’ve talked a lot about making your own baby food and keeping your daughter Krishna eating healthy. Are there any junk foods you allow her to have?