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Padma Lakshmi may be best known as a model and the host of Top Chef, but she also launched her own jewelry and kitchenware line.
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"I was the first Indian model to have a career in Paris, Milan and New York."
Model and television personality Padma Parvati Lakshmi was born on September 1, 1970, in Chennai, India. Lakshmi's parents divorced when she was 2 years old. Her mother moved to the United States to escape the stigma of divorce in India. Lakshmi lived with her maternal grandparents in Chennai for two years before joining her mother in America. Both of her parents later remarried, and she has a younger half-brother and half-sister on her father's side. Lakshmi, who shares her last name with the Hindu goddess of wealth and prosperity, grew up first in New York and then in Los Angeles with her mother and stepfather. She returned to India for several months each year to visit family.
When she was 14 years old, a car crash changed her life. Lakshmi had recently recovered from an illness, and "my mother, who is very religious, took me to temple so we could thank God for making me better," she later recalled. The family was returning from the temple when the car skidded off the road and smashed into a tree. The crash broke Lakshmi's pelvis and shattered her upper right arm. Her injuries required surgery that left a seven-inch scar along her arm. Self-conscious at first, Lakshmi came to embrace her scar after she began modeling, when the mark distinguished her. "The scar became my brand statement," she said.
Lakshmi attended Clark University in Massachusetts, starting as a psychology major before graduating in 1992 with a bachelor's in theater. While studying abroad in Spain, Lakshmi was spotted by a modeling scout in a Madrid bar. She soon began traveling the world as a model for designers like Armani, Versace and Ralph Lauren."I was the first Indian model to have a career in Paris, Milan and New York," she said. Her studies and background prepared her well for an international career—in addition to English, Lakshmi speaks Spanish, Italian, Hindi and Tamil.
Modeling led to offers of acting jobs, and Lakshmi began appearing in television shows filmed in Hollywood, Bollywood and Europe. Her roles included a bit part in the 2001 film Glitter, starring singer Mariah Carey, and a part in the Italian miniseries, Caraibi, that required her to gain more than 30 pounds. After losing the weight, she published a cookbook entitled Easy Exotic, a collection of low-calorie recipes incorporating the flavors of Southeast Asia. The book's success led to her own show on the Food Network, Padma's Passport, and a similar job hosting the British show Planet Food.
In 1999, Lakshmi met author Salman Rushdie at a party in New York hosted by journalist Tina Brown.
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