Padma Lakshmi’s new soul-nourishing show, Taste the Nation, celebrates the diverse culinary culture of America.
Multihyphenate Padma Lakshmi is not new to serving up delicious culinary content. The supermodel, author and Top Chef host adds something else to her plate this summer with the debut of her new Hulu show, Taste the Nation.
The show, which debuted June 19, takes a deep dive into America’s epicurean epidemiology as Lakshmi travels across the nation to meet with different cultures and explore their indigenous cuisines. The 10 half-hour episodes will each visit a different location.
“I think Taste the Nation will remind people, I hope, that we are more alike than we are different,” Lakshmi says, “that while we may speak a different language or eat a different kind of food, that we all want the same things. We all want a better life for our kids; we want them to just be safe and thrive and to be educated. We want to be able to provide our families with a calm home, and we want to be able to take care of our elders, and we want our children to take care of us when we’re older. Those are universal human desires and values. Those values do not have borders.”
As comfort cooking trends across the globe during the COVID-19 crisis, Lakshmi’s new show spotlights how these dishes truly tell the tale of who we are as people. “I think that’s the kind of cooking I’m interested in,” she explains. “Most Americans can’t afford to go to a Michelin star all the time. That’s a very special event or treat for most families. To me, the interesting food is the food being made in average homes across this nation... and I think you can tell a lot about who a person or a community is by looking at the food they eat.” Lakshmi shares that when she travels it is her epicurean adventures that excite her the most. “Whenever I go to a new city, yes, I’ll ask the hotel where’s the nice restaurant—but really what I’ll be trying to find out is where the cab drivers eat. ... Where’s the hole-in-the-wall restaurant that all the locals know about? Because to me, that’s not only more authentic, it is the most delicious food.”
“I would love to do an episode on the Cuban community [in Miami]. That was on our list, we just couldn’t get to every community we wanted to,” she says. Lakshmi cites classics like Joe’s Stone Crab and Top Chef winner Jeremy Ford’s Stubborn Seed as some of her favorite Miami eateries, but it is, of course, the deeply authentic cuisine that interests her most. “I really want to seek out the Cuban food like ropa vieja, which is this yummy beef dish, and tostones, rice and beans,” she says. “I love Miami, and in my 20s I had an apartment in Miami on Collins.”
Lakshmi proudly works as a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations and closely with the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood. Most recently, Lakshmi helped establish the James Beard Foundation’s Relief Fund. “We have an emergency relief fund that we set up very quickly after the crisis, which helped everyone stand on their feet or stay on their feet in the restaurant industry,” she shares. “All these small businesses can’t withstand much more of the income loss, so we did grants that are $15,000 each to small restaurants that hold 100 or fewer employees.”
When asked about the current global challenges, the philanthropic powerhouse hopes that now more than ever we can embrace this spirit of connectivity: “This collective experience has taught us we can use a lot less of the earth’s resources and thereby do less damage to our environment.” Lakshmi has been staying sane during the pandemic thanks to at-home workouts, evening baths— and a lot of cooking. “Cooking has been really therapeutic,” she says.
Because the current season of Top Chef filmed before the pandemic hit, fans can still enjoy the show—including a finale filmed in Italy. “What’s nice about this season is that everybody who loves Top Chef already knows all the characters because it’s an all-stars season,” Lakshmi says. And while the Bravo series is always a classic, Taste the Nation is a true passion project. “I’m very, very proud of this show. I’ve poured my heart and soul into it,” she says. “It’s a very, very personal project for me. I can’t wait for people to get to see it because I do think it shows us an accurate portrait of who Americans are—and what America is in all of its beauty and diversity.”
Photography by: Jennifer Livingston / Trunk Archive