In “Taste the Nation,” which began its second season on Hulu this month, Padma Lakshmi, the longtime host of the reality television competition “Top Chef,” visits various immigrant communities in the United States, not Not just eating their food, but interviewing the people who make it.
Much has been written about what the show is like. fundamentalist A departure for food television, with its potential to highlight history, memory and trauma in the way we eat. Whether Ms. Lakshmi, 52, is breaking the Ramadan fast with Arab-Americans in Dearborn, Mich., or making piroshki with an eccentric Ukrainian-American chef, she manages to shed light on how politics And culture sits down from eating. His DIY, documentary style—not unlike the food shows of hosts like Anthony Bourdain—manages to avoid glamorizing these communities and their foods.
Less attention has been paid to her appearance in the show. Here, unlike on “Top Chef,” the former fashion model presents herself as she is: unfussy, with minimal hair and makeup, and without much panache. In an edited interview, Ms. Lakshmi spoke about her choice of clothing, as she prefers to make her own makeup and other aesthetic decisions that go into creating the “taste of the nation.”
Do you think the culture has changed in the way we talk about women, especially women of color, on TV?
I’ve always been the same. I’ve continued to try and create work for myself that’s interesting to me — because that’s the greatest blessing you can hope for, to do what you love and for it. Get compensation. But it took some time for people to catch on. People are allowing me to be my full self, allowing me to be a smart thinker and good looking. Those two things are not mutually exclusive. The rules for me as a woman on television are completely different from those of my male counterparts. It’s a fact of life that I’m just willing to accept and fight against.
Do you think that being a former model — in other words, being considered conventionally beautiful — made it easier for the media to alienate or stereotype you?
You don’t have to be a fashion model to know what I’m talking about or what it feels like. This is true for corporate women, for women in academia, for women in food, for women in publishing.
Your appearance in “Taste the Nation” is very simple. Is it intentional?
I wanted the show to look different from “Top Chef.” My job is to give all my participants a platform to tell their stories as they see fit. I also wanted to be comfortable. If you’ve seen “Top Chef,” you know I’m in stilettos, I’m in a very tight shiny dress. But with “Taste the Nation,” I wanted to look like myself. I didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb in the communities where I embedded myself for about a week.
What were the other considerations that went into your wardrobe?
My wardrobe person, Rachel Weirks, doesn’t travel with me. Once we get the episodes down, we look at the weather around this time of year. And we make sure that if I’m going fishing with former Cambodian gang members, which I did in an episode set in Lowell, Mass., that I have some tall gumboots. Although when I rewatched the episode, I joked that I looked like something out of the LL Bean catalog. But it is never intentional.
You also wear a lot of flared jeans.
I’m wearing flares because we don’t have a sound department. Our voice man, Dimitri Tisseyre – who’s done almost every episode with us since the beginning – is such a tyrant, but that’s only because he wants the show to be great. He doesn’t want to see that mic pack. So I’m wearing a belt around my ankle with a mic pack in it. And then the wire goes all the way from my ankle to my bra, where the microphone is often hooked.
I assume you have hair and makeup for the show?
My hair is done by my long-time hairdresser, Jenny Sifo, who travels with me. She often plugs her curling iron into the electrical socket on the front dashboard next to the air conditioning controls. We had a make-up artist for the first few episodes of the first season, which was lovely, but I felt there were too many people on set. In documentary film, the less you disturb the environment you’re trying to capture, the better.
Did you notice a difference when you reduced the number of people in the room?
I did it. You have to understand, we’re just moving around in three vans and one of those vans is for our camera equipment, and then an SUV, and that’s it. I don’t have more than 12 or 15 people on the road with me at any given time. My closet is in the back of my SUV.
You’ve come a long way since being profiled by a critic. “come here pose” On “Top Chef”.
There are no incoming poses. I’m just standing there.
I noticed you wear the same jewelry over and over on the show.
All the jewelry you see me wearing, whether it’s a Rolex or gold hoops, is mine. I keep it very simple. I usually always wear a St. Christopher medallion that was given to me by an old lover who died more than a dozen years ago. I also wear a three-stone necklace, which my daughter and her father made for me many years ago for my birthday. Dimitri [the sound person] And I have to constantly push and pull about him, because he can always hear their voices. But I don’t care because in life you listen to things.
I remember now that you took off your Rolex — and those are your words — to “fist” a lamb you had in Tarpon Springs, Fla. I’m preparing to cook an episode on set, where there is a large Greek community.
Yes, because it’s a Rolex!
It can be difficult for women to wear clothes that are not restrictive. We are often expected to look good. But if we wear clothes, it is also commented negatively.
Yes, it is correct. How do you look good without drawing attention to yourself? We all saw it with E-Jane [Carroll]closet recently in his lawsuit against Donald Trump. I thought she was a master in the way she dressed. I can’t hide the fact that I am who I am and I have a Rolex in my closet. But at the same time, I just want to be very approachable. Sexy and smart, but simple.