How Padma Lakshmi Made A Name For Herself In Hollywood

Serving as the host for Bravo's famous reality series, "Top Chef," Padma Lakshmi has become a face and name recognized worldwide. Known for her cooking prowess and appearance, Lakshmi has been part of the entertainment industry for decades now. From modeling and acting in movies and TV series, to authoring cookbooks, a memoir, and a children's book — along with using her success for the betterment of society — she has done it all. 

In a 2017 interview with Fast Company, Lakshmi humbly said, "To me, success is when you're at a point in your life when you can help other people. Not only monetarily, but when you can use your power and influence to really make a difference when and where people need it."

While most of us are well aware of her work as a celebrity, not many people know about her upbringing, her life as an immigrant, or the events that changed her life and made her who she is today. Read on to find out facts you did not know about the reality TV star.

She immigrated to the U.S. as a 4-year-old

Padma Lakshmi was born in September 1970 in Chennai, India. Lakshmi's parents divorced when she was two, and her mother, Vijaya, moved to America, leaving Lakshmi behind in India to be looked after by her maternal grandparents. In a CNN article, Lakshmi wrote, "She was fleeing an abusive marriage, and needed to find a job and a safe place for us to land. I didn't understand." In due course, Vijaya started working as a nurse in New York, and at four, Lakshmi immigrated to the United States to live with her mother (per WSJ).

At 8, Lakshmi moved back to India, where she entered third grade, only to return to the U.S. a year later. "I became used to shuttling back and forth ... but being the new girl in school all the time wasn't easy," she wrote in a Wall Street Journal feature. During her teen years, she returned to India every summer to join her family in Chennai.

Although Lakshmi believed her mother's family never let her sense her father's absence, as she told People in 2016, not having her father or his family involved in her life was still "one big black hole." More than 20 years after her parents' divorce, Lakshmi had a heart-wrenching reunion with her father. According to Lakshmi, when she asked why he abandoned her "he said something like 'I thought it would be better for you if it was a clean break and you weren't torn.'"

It was a horrifying car accident that gave Padma Lakshmi her signature scar

In terms of appearance, what sets Padma Lakshmi apart from other models and celebrities is the 7-inch scar she has on her right arm. Per The Guardian, at 14, Lakshmi was diagnosed with Stevens-Johnson Syndrome, which causes the skin to blister and eventually peel off, usually due to the consumption of certain medicines (per WebMD). After getting Lakshmi treated at a hospital for three weeks, her mother and stepfather took her to a Hindu temple in Malibu to thank God for her recovery, and their car crashed on their way back. The vehicle went airborne, flew off the freeway and "40 feet down an embankment," and ultimately hit a tree.

In another piece published by The Guardian, Lakshmi noted that the paramedics and firefighters took 40 minutes to come to their rescue, and she passed out shortly after. Lakshmi wrote, "When I woke up hours later, I had tubes coming out of several places in my body. My right arm had been shattered and my right hip had been fractured. After surgery, I regained the use of both of them but was left with a long scar on my arm." Her parents were severely injured as well, but fortunately, all three of them recovered. Lakshmi, who was initially very conscious about hiding her scar, gradually came to terms with it — and today, she wears the mark with honor, thinking of it as a symbol of her survival.

She went by a different name to fit in with her classmates at high school

In a 2016 interview with People, Padma Lakshmi revealed that, in high school, she was bullied for her appearance, what she carried to school for lunch, as well as her name. She recalled how she once had an egg cracked on her head and had her face punched by a classmate.

While talking to People about her 2016 memoir, "Love, Loss, And What We Ate," Lakshmi noted that she was often teased for her height and long neck, and "giraffe," "Skeletor," and "E.T." were only a few of the names she used to be called. The fear of being linked with third-world slums and diseases made her feel the need to change herself into someone who'd fit in with her classmates and seem more American. As a result, for the four years she spent in high school, she went by Angelique.

However, changing her name wasn't enough to make her classmates treat her like she was one of them. She told People, "I didn't feel any different, I didn't feel any less American, even though I ate rice and curry or even though my name was Padma or I spoke to my mother in a different language, I felt as American as anybody else in my classroom. But they didn't feel I was as American."

Her scar helped kick off her modeling career

During her senior year, Padma Lakshmi went to Spain for studies and was offered a chance to model by an agent who spotted her at a Madrid bar. Embarrassed by her scar, she immediately refused, but it was her friend who tricked her into going to the agency, and she started doing photoshoots wearing winter clothes or makeup that hid her scar. Eventually, she was booked by German-Australian photographer Helmut Newton for a nude shoot, but Lakshmi, still uncomfortable with her scar, canceled the appointment. To her surprise, shortly after she underwent chemical dermabrasion to remove the pigmentation from her scar, Newton booked her again (via The Guardian).

As Lakshmi notes in the 2001 essay she wrote for The Guardian, Newton wasn't happy about the erasion of her mark and had the makeup artist restore it before the shoot. Soon, Lakshmi started modeling for brands like Armani, Versace, and Ralph Lauren and made a name for herself in the industry (per Biography). To some extent, it was her scar that gave her the upper hand. However, to this day, she refuses to be carried away by her success, telling PBS, "I did feel guilty about [modeling] ... I made in one day what it took my mother, for example, as a nurse to make in a month. I know that my looks are really the alchemy of my parents' genetics and have little to do with me or any accomplishment of my own."

Having a degree in theater, Padma Lakshmi has acted in several films and TV series

According to Padma Lakshmi's website, she has a Bachelor's Degree in Theatre Arts and American Literature. She initially joined Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts, as a psychology major but changed her stream later on and graduated in 1992 (per Biography). Shortly after entering the modeling industry, Lakshmi tried her hands at acting, appearing in a number of European, Indian, and Hollywood movies.

At the beginning of her short-lived acting career, Lakshmi appeared in two Italian TV series titled "The Son of Sandokan" and "Caraibi – Pirates: Blood Brothers" in 1998 and 1999, respectively. She played a supporting character in the 2001 American movie "Glitter," and briefly appeared as an alien princess in a 2002 episode of the TV series "Star Trek: Enterprise." 

The Indian film industry based in Mumbai, also known as Bollywood, cast her in a 2003 black-comedy thriller film called "Boom," which starred a number of famous Indian actors, including Amitabh Bachchan, Zeenat Aman, and Katrina Kaif. She portrayed the character Geeta in the 2005 movie "The Mistress of Spices," which was directed by Paul Mayeda Berges. In 2006, she was seen in a telefilm called "Sharpe's Challenge," as well as the ABC TV series titled "The Ten Commandments." She also appeared in a 2009 episode of the NBC series "30 Rock."

Hosting a myriad of cooking shows helped her achieve worldwide fame and numerous accolades

Per IMDb, Lakshmi has been hosting "Top Chef" since 2006, and her work on the show has earned her four Primetime Emmy Award nominations for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program (in the years 2009, 2020, 2021, and 2022). According to her website, in 2022, Lakshmi won a Critics Choice Real TV Award for Best Show Host for hosting "Top Chef."

In 1997, Lakshmi served as the host of "Domenica In," a high-rated Italian TV series. She hosted two episodes of the British culinary docuseries "Planet Food" in 2000. The series aired on Food Network in the United States and on Disney Channels worldwide. In 2001, she hosted "Padma's Passport," a part of the Food Network series "Melting Pot," which featured her whipping up dishes from all around the world.

"Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi," her very own Hulu series, which features her traveling around the U.S., experiencing the culture of each city and enjoying their food, first aired in 2020. The show, which she created, hosts, and produces, has not only won a 2021 Critics Choice Real TV Award for Best Culinary Series but has also earned her a 2022 Critics Choice Real TV Award for Best Show Host. "Taste the Nation: Holiday Edition," which was released as a 4-episode holiday special in 2021, received a James Beard Foundation Award in the Visual Media – Long Form category in 2022.

She is an established author

When we say Padma Lakshmi is an all-rounder, we mean it. Over the years, she has successfully authored six books, which include two cookbooks, one memoir, one encyclopedia, and one illustrated children's book. Her first cookbook, "Easy Exotic: A Model's Low Fat Recipes From Around the World," was launched in 1999, receiving the Best First Book award at that year's Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. In 2016, Lakshmi released "The Encyclopedia of Spices & Herbs: An Essential Guide to the Flavors of the World," as well as her memoir, "Love, Loss, and What We Ate."

According to, her memoir beautifully details her childhood, the recipes she learned from her family in India, her love life, and her sufferings. In August 2021, Lakshmi released her first children's book, "Tomatoes for Neela," which she describes as "a very small personal story that centers around a young single mother who also is a recipe writer like me," (via The Economic Times). "It's just really about teaching children how to cook from an early age, respecting Mother Nature and eating when things are in season." The release of "Tomatoes for Neela" was followed by Lakshmi's second cookbook, "The Best American Travel Writing 2021."

She has been vocal about being molested as a child and raped as a teenager

In a 2018 essay she penned for The New York Times, Padma Lakshmi reveals that a 23-year-old man she used to date as a 16-year-old raped her in her sleep. She met the man, whose identity remains hidden, at the Puente Hills Mall in a Los Angeles suburb, where the two worked at different stores. As Lakshmi notes, they were physically intimate to some extent, but she wasn't sure about having intercourse. On New Year's Eve, the duo went to the man's apartment, and Lakshmi fell asleep. She writes, "The next thing I remember is waking up to a very sharp stabbing pain like a knife blade between my legs ... I asked, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'It will only hurt for a while.' Please don't do this, I screamed."

In the same essay, she recalls, "When I was 7 years old, my stepfather's relative touched me between my legs and put my hand on his erect penis." Lakshmi, who was sent back to India for a year after opening up to her parents about the incident, states, "The lesson was: If you speak up, you will be cast out." According to Lakshmi, being vocal about these events was necessary for raising awareness "so that our daughters never know this fear and shame and our sons know that girls' bodies do not exist for their pleasure and that abuse has grave consequences."

She married Salman Rushdie in 2004

Padma Lakshmi met her now ex-husband, novelist Salman Rushdie in 1999 at a party in New York (per The New York Times). At the time, Rushdie, who is 23 years older than Lakshmi, was married to his third wife, Elizabeth West. Lakshmi and Rushdie tied the knot in 2004. As Lakshmi told People, "He was the best thing that ever happened to me by a mile. The fact that somebody of that stature and caliber was even interested remotely enough in me to want to take me to lunch was kind of unbelievable."

However, the marriage didn't last long, and the couple divorced in 2007. Later on, Lakshmi revealed that the uterine disorder she suffered from resulted in a lack of physical intimacy, and it played a massive part in the pair's split. At one point, Rushdie allegedly went as far as to call Lakshmi "a bad investment." In his 2012 memoir, "Joseph Anton," Rushdie writes in third person, "Her feelings for him — he would learn — were real, but intermittent. She was ambitious in a way that often obliterated feeling. They would have a sort of life together — eight years from first meeting to final divorce, not a negligible length of time — and in the end, inevitably, she broke his heart as he had broken Elizabeth's." Rushdie also alleged that Lakshmi was constantly competing with him "and thought he was blocking her light" (via The New York Times).

She is a mother to daughter Krishna

Padma Lakshmi announced her first pregnancy in October 2009. At the time, the New York Post reported that the model refused to disclose the identity of her child's father. It was later revealed that Lakshmi — who dated two men (billionaire Teddy Forstmann and venture capitalist Adam Dell) prior to her pregnancy — wasn't sure about who she conceived the child with (via US Weekly). Her daughter, Krishna, was born in February 2010, and DNA tests later confirmed that it was Adam Dell who fathered little Krishna (per the Daily News).

According to the Daily News, in 2011, Dell sued Lakshmi for not naming him as Krishna's father and trying to teach Krishna to call Forstmann "Papa." The court ruled in favor of Dell in several ways. He was allowed expanded custody and visitation rights, and Lakshmi was ordered to change her daughter's surname to Lakshmi-Dell. The outlet also reported that Krishna, who was deeply loved by Forstmann, was left with a trust fund when he died in 2011 at the age of 71. The soon-to-be teen is often featured on her mother's Instagram grid, and the adorable mother-daughter duo clearly seems inseparable.

She is the co-founder of the Endometriosis Foundation of America

According to the Food Network, at the age of 36, Padma Lakshmi was diagnosed with endometriosis, which the World Health Organization describes as "a disease where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus, causing pain and/or infertility." Lakshmi, who suffered from the disorder since the age of 13, told Self, "I spent 25 percent of my life in bed because of this chronic illness that I had no idea I had ... It wasn't until I was properly diagnosed and got on the other side of my treatment, which included several surgeries, that I realized what normal really is."

Later on, Lakshmi's struggle and fight against endometriosis inspired her to cofound the Endometriosis Foundation of America. Per the foundation's website, Lakshmi and Dr. Tamer Seckin, an endometriosis specialist, founded the organization in 2009, aiming to "increase disease recognition, provide advocacy, facilitate expert surgical training, and fund landmark endometriosis research."

She is an impressive entrepreneur and an avid activist

Apart from being a model and cookbook author, Padma Lakshmi is an ingenious entrepreneur. According to her website, so far, she has created a fine jewelry line, a home decor line, and a line of culinary items. The jewelry and home decor lines, the latter of which features stemware, tableware, and hand-blown glass decor items, are called "The Padma Collection," whereas her range of culinary products, which include "fine teas," "frozen organic foods," and "natural spice blends," are called "Padma's Easy Exotic" (named after her first cookbook). She has also collaborated with MAC Cosmetics and created a capsule collection titled "MAC Padma."

Lakshmi's website also lists her work as an activist and details the functions of each organization she works with. Lakshmi, who serves as an ambassador for the American Civil Liberties Union as well as the United Nations Development Programme, says, "I want to inspire people from all corners of the world to be vocal and active agents for social change." She is also involved with organizations like Planned Parenthood, Shanti Bhavan Children's Project, Women's March Foundation, and World Central Kitchen.