2013 Honoree

Padma Lakshmi

Emmy Nominated Host of Top Chef, Co-Founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America

“I was advised to live in Los Angeles if I wanted a career in entertainment. I was told I would never work in TV if I insisted on living in NYC. I’m glad I didn’t listen because I’m much happier in my hometown of NY and I think that makes me better at my job.”

What city best describes your personality?

I don’t often think of myself as a city, but if I had to choose one it would certainly be New York. Everything from the people to the food in this city come together to create a wonderful melting pot of different cultures. Having lived my life in many different parts of the globe, from India to Europe to the U.S., I fully understand and appreciate the beauty and diversity that is New York City.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever ignored, and the worst advice you’ve ever taken?

I was advised to live in Los Angeles if I wanted a career in entertainment. I was told I would never work in TV if I insisted on living in NYC. I’m glad I didn’t listen because I’m much happier in my hometown of NY and I think that makes me better at my job. Plus, the center of the food universe is in the Big Apple.
The worst advice I have ever taken is to put myself first. I did that for a while when I was young and it made me something I’m not. The best life one can lead is one in service of others. If more people considered their fellow man and woman we would all be better off.

What is your best read? What book would you want to be a character in?

Wow, where do I start? Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, The Great Gatsby, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, Sons and Lovers by DH Lawrence, The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck, The Moor’s Last Sigh. Anything by Henry James, Kafka, Faulkner…Too many great books to choose from! And having been a character in more than one book already, I can say it’s not all it’s cracked up to be…

How do you define power? Do you enjoy it? How do you live with your success?

I define power as having the freedom and resources to help shape the world one lives in. Power is when you’re able to stop thinking about your own survival and put your efforts and mind to solving problems others have. Affecting positive change in the world is true power. Affecting and bettering the lives of others is the only game in town.

When do we stop asking questions about gender equality? When will it be Power People instead of Power Women? Is gender more important than politics?

Gender is politics. The only reason that fundamentalists have a problem with Western society is because of our attitudes toward gender equality. They are threatened by the notion of women being powerful, of being equal: equally powerful, equally capable, equally respected as human beings. They are threatened that the same body of the population that gives life can also do everything else as those who cannot create and sustain life. The only real difference in point of view between the two societies is how they view a woman’s place.

What do you think of social media?

I don’t have as much of a grasp on social media as I’d like to, but even I completely understand its value to our society and its ability to make our world seem much smaller. It’s fascinating to sit back and observe how heavily this next generation is impacted by something our generation lived most our lives without. I thoroughly enjoy having the ability to immediately express myself to thousands of people, to be able to interact with them and see what they have to say too. I really love Instagram, that’s my preferred method of engaging in social media. It has also been a boon to my business. I get instant feedback and I also get to hone in on my specific audience in a way that would’ve been impossible fifteen years ago, or even ten.

What’s one place you’ve always wanted to visit on your travels?

I don’t know how this is possible, but somehow in all my years of traveling as a model and actress, I have never gotten around to visiting Egypt. It has been on my to-do list for so long now and I can’t wait to explore everything this culture has to show me–especially the food!

When sending a child out to see the world for the first time, where would you send them?

I’d send them everywhere. It is my belief that children who are exposed to many cultures, be they part of their heritage or not, are way better off. The specific place I don’t believe is as important as them being fully immersed in the culture by learning the language, getting to know the people and their traditions and customs. After growing up speaking Tamil, Hindi, and English, and bouncing back and forth between India and the U.S., I lived in Italy for six years in my mid-twenties and they were some of the best years of my life. Without that period, I certainly would not be the same person today; it played a huge role in my career, my personal life, my cooking, my communication skills and so many others ways.

What advice would you give to a young woman starting out?

No one does it alone. Find people you admire and seek out their mentorship. And look for all kinds of people to guide you.

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