Why Padma Lakshmi Won’t Be Running for Office

Why Padma Lakshmi Won’t Be Running for Office

By Pallabi Munsi


The “Top Chef” host has some ideas about how to change America.

By Pallabi Munsi

Padma Lakshmi may be at the top of the food game, but she’s a lot more than just the host of Taste the Nation and Top Chef. The political activist has several ideas on how the political process needs to change. Watch The Carlos Watson Show here, or read on for excerpts from Lakshmi’s conversation with OZY’s co-founder in which she discusses her love of New York, her affinity for Diana Ross — and why she’ll never run for office.

‘In New York, you have so much more autonomy’

Carlos Watson: Do you miss California very much when you’re in New York?

Padma Lakshmi: Not really. I mean, I’m a New Yorker. I was really mad at my mom when she moved across the country. You know, as a kid in New York, you have so much more autonomy. You can walk around, you can discover things. I used to roller-skate all up and down the Upper East Side, when I was just 9 years old. I could go to the deli and get a bagel; I could get a slice of pizza very early on. I was a latchkey kid. So I really resented moving to Los Angeles because I was just stuck at home after school. I mean, I did get a bike eventually, which helped, but in LA the lifestyle is really different.… I found it very isolating, Los Angeles. It’s a one-industry town and everything is measured by that. And I just found it, I’m not, I’m pretty much a loner anyways, so it’s rare that I feel lonely, but more than lonely, I felt bored in Los Angeles.

CW: Really? Interesting, because you have such a nice way about you that I would have assumed you would have built a nice friendship group there. But do you think it was the people?

PL: I think it’s just the access. That’s what I think. I think once I was there for a while and I had a friend of mine come from New York who had friends and he introduced me to two friends and then I eventually did make friends. But I don’t know, I’m a New Yorker. I think you’re right, there is a lot of diversity in Los Angeles, but there’s not a lot of commingling. There are a lot of Black people in Los Angeles. There are a lot of Latinos. There are a lot of Asians. And then others are Persians and all different kinds of South Americans as well. But I don’t find that they commingle. If you go to a restaurant in Beverly Hills or West Hollywood, it’s mostly white people. And if you go in the San Gabriel Valley, it will usually be Asian people or Mexican people. And then if you go to certain parts of LA like Inglewood and stuff, it’s mostly Black people. So they’re out there. They’re not talking to each other, in my opinion.

CW: That’s actually interesting. Now, when you say roller-skating or rollerblading, I’m envisioning hip-hop music playing in your ear, and I’m hearing like early ’80s, ’90s hip-hop music. Were you a hip-hop girl?

PL: Yeah, definitely, but by the ’90s, I was modeling and I was of drinking age. I had already graduated college, but when I was roller-skating, gosh, it was the precursor to hip-hop, which is just R&B. I was listening to a lot of Diana Ross. I was listening to Donna Summer very early. I used to dance when I was 6 years old on my parents’ coffee table. 

On ‘Flavor’

CW: Now, Padma, where did you get all this flavor from? Because you have got a lot of flavor and where did you get all this good flavor from? Where did it come from? Is this Indian seasoning, like where did all the good stuff come from?

PL: It is. It’s totally, it’s curry in a hurry. This is a very, not a politically incorrect thing to say, perhaps, but there are brown people, there are Indian people who are really more white brown people and then there are brown people who are really Black on the inside. And I’m definitely of the latter persuasion.

So I had a lot of friends who were African American. I felt very, very, a very deep kinship to that culture. Obviously I don’t know what it’s like to be African American, but I did feel very attracted to those people. As far as my girlfriends, as far as a couple of early boyfriends I had, my mom had a boyfriend in New York around this time, in the late ’70s, who was from Barbados, his name was Otis. And he had a son and a daughter, and his daughter would always sing gospel. And so I was just around it. And I think I just absorbed it. You absorb what you want to absorb. As children, I think things can be around you, but you really just retain the information that feels pertinent or important to you.

On Kamala Harris and Donald Trump

CW: How are you feeling about Kamala?

PL: I’m feeling great about Kamala. I was really sad when she ended her presidential bid. I understood why she did it; made sense at the time. I’m really excited to have her. Once I found out that she was Biden’s pick, that was the first time I got excited about the election. I was going to vote for whoever was on the Democratic ticket. I was going to help in whatever way I could for obvious reasons. But when he named her, I thought, “Oh, that’s exciting.” It breathed this kind of new electricity into the campaign, but also a lot of sex appeal. 

I think Kamala Harris is a very dynamic person. And if you watch her in the debates and if you watch her in all those Senate hearings, of course she has great training and experience as a prosecutor, but she is bold and sure and clear. Not on all topics. We know that she needs to clarify things on maybe health care and some other stuff. But I do — and I know there are problems that a lot of people point to about when she was attorney general in New York — but I do think that she has tried to rectify her stance and make up for it in a lot of the bills that she’s tried to pass through Congress. Her grandfather lived around the corner from my grandfather.

CW: No!

PL: When you asked me where I grew up, I say between South India and New York, because every summer from June to September, I was on a plane to Chennai, which used to be called Madras back then. And I spent three months at my grandparents’ house every year, all the way up until I finished high school. So I feel still very Indian. And I think Kamala had a similar experience. It’s amazing I don’t remember ever meeting a young girl or her sister who looked half Black or who had a father like that. So I don’t remember running into her, but, like, our family doctor lived above her grandfather.

CW: Have you met her since? Have you guys gotten to know each other at all?

PL: I did meet her. I met her last year at an event. It was very brief, but I did at the time say how excited I was about her campaign.

CW: Do you think Biden is going to win? Not who do you want to win, but who do you think is going to win? You think Biden is going to win? You think Trump is going to win?

PL: Honestly, I think you could flip a coin. And I say that as somebody who was burned along with everybody else in the Javits Center on that night in 2016. I was there with my daughter and I’ll never forget the day in my life. So, I have no idea. I don’t think the polls get it right either. Of course, I want him [Biden] to win, but it just depends. Because the people I feel who are Trump supporters, real hardcore Trump supporters, I don’t think that they care that he is not a very moral or ethical person. I just don’t think … I think it’s more of an ideology. Those hardcore Trumpers, I feel, want America to remain white. And whether Trump stays in office or not, that way of life, American life, is an endangered way of life, it is not going to last, because we have evolved as a society and a culture.

Thirty years from now or 40 years from now, when my daughter is my age, Americans will be beige or brown mostly, there’s going to be more diversity whether you like it or not. And so, that is happening. They can slow it down and they can think they’re slowing it down or preserve some kind of Norman Rockwell ideal of America, but I would love to ask those people, are you better off today than you were four years ago? A lot of those same people — it’s really interesting — a lot of those same people don’t believe in wearing masks. So, I don’t know how to get to them, I don’t.

My daughter has actually been volunteering with her dad to make phone calls to make sure people vote and to talk to them about why they should vote for Biden. I haven’t done it yet because I’ve been working. But, I feel like sometimes you’re not going to get to those people, and this is not a position that I’m comfortable being in, but I really feel what we actually have to do is get the people who do agree that President Trump shouldn’t be in office but who don’t usually vote. In immigrant communities, a lot of these people just don’t believe that it makes any difference, they just … That’s a very big part of immigrant culture, that you just keep your head down, and you work hard, and you don’t make waves, and the political system really doesn’t apply to you unless you’re trying to get your grandparents here from Korea, Vietnam, India, wherever, Mexico — they don’t vote. And those are the people we have to reach; we have to make sure that the people who agree with us also agree to walk or mail in their vote.

CW: Would you ever think about running for office or serving an office in some way?

PL: No, there are too many sexy pictures of me on the internet.