Padma Lakshmi Is at War With the Rats

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Photo: Charles Thompson

Name: Padma Lakshmi
Age: 41
Neighborhood: East Village
Occupation: Cookbook author and TV glutton. Next Tuesday September 13, she’ll be hosting the Moth storytelling event “Moth Eaten: Food Adventures in Epic Portions” with tales from David Chang, Gail Simmons, Adam Gopnik, and more.

Who's your favorite New Yorker, living or dead, real or fictional?
Andy Warhol or Elmo. Warhol because he was a master at taking something ordinary and making it extraordinary. In many ways, that’s what this city is all about. And Elmo, because, well ... if you need a reason, ask the nearest 2-year-old.

What's the best meal you've eaten in New York?
I’ve had so many great meals in this city. From Harlem to Chinatown, from Queens to Brooklyn, I grew up eating my way through New York. That’s why I do what I do. The sea urchin and chili pasta at Marea, the bagel-and-lox ice cream at wd~50, the Nutella pizza at Sapori d’Ischia, the two-and-a-half falafels at 4 a.m. at Basement Bhangra, the steaming idlis doused with coconut chutney in the basement cafeteria of the Ganesh temple in Flushing, the tres leches cake from Chang’s Milk Bar (it is a meal in itself), and anything at Le Bernardin all come to mind. But the best meal last week was a real beauty: a large glistening wedge of soft, silky, quivering French cheese slathered on a torn crusty baguette, followed by chilled, ripe, summer peaches soaked in red wine and cinnamon, savored on a blanket at dusk in Central Park. The best meals are made of memories.

In one sentence, what do you actually do all day in your job?
Eat, think, write ... repeat.

What was your first job in New York?
Believe it or not, I walked the runway for Ralph Lauren.

What's the last thing you saw on Broadway?
Speed the Plow by Mamet.

Do you give money to panhandlers?
Yesss, I cant help it. I always feel deep inside that one day that could be me. So my giving up a bit of change is my way of giving thanks that it's not. Except for the guy in front of the Duane Reade on my corner, because he’s always there and I feel like I gave already last week. And that guy would never be me because I could never stand for that long every day next to an overflowing stinky trash can and not do something about it. I mean, maybe if he at least swept up a little, or picked up the litter I would buy him a cup of coffee or something, although I doubt that’s his drink of choice. But at this point that’s just his beat, I guess.

What's your drink?
We have something we make in large batches up in our studio called the Company Drink. It involves muddled jalapeños, orange blossom water, grapefruit juice, and some hooch, usually vodka or champagne, depending. But I shall resist the temptation to give the whole recipe here. Mostly, I’m usually so sleep deprived my drink of choice is 46 cups of milky, black Indian tea with lots of honey.

How often do you prepare your own meals?
Daily, even when filming and staying in hotels. Believe it!

What's your favorite medication?
Two hours at the Korean Bath House.

What's hanging above your sofa?
Two Toulouse Lautrecs, both of women disrobing. One of which once belonged to Mrs. John Hay Whitney.

How much is too much to spend on a haircut?
I don’t know. If it costs more than a nice dinner out for two then I’d say maybe it's too much? But a bad haircut stays with you a lot longer than a bad meal.

When's bedtime?
I usually doze off between 7:30 and 9 p.m. while putting my baby to sleep. Then I suddenly wake up remembering I’m an adult with no bedtime. I spend the next four hours catching up on reading, e-mails, and other adult pursuits until I collapse for good until sunrise.

Which do you prefer, the old Times Square or the new Times Square?
My mom was scared of the old Times Square so I was never allowed to go. Now I’m scared of the new Times Square, so I still never go.

What do you think of Donald Trump?
Every city has a Donald Trump; ours is just the Trumpiest. I find him charming, and I think his children are surprisingly well-adjusted and polite. And his wife is hot. Clearly, he is doing something right. He should just not run for any public office ever, other than being his already self-elected for life Trumped up Trumpipoo of this great city.

What do you hate most about living in New York?
The rats in Tompkins Square Park. I’m constantly on the phone to 311.

Who is your mortal enemy?
The rats in Tompkins Square Park.

When's the last time you drove a car?
You know, I’m very lucky. People always seem to send me cars. Perhaps, they’ve seen my driving?

How has the Wall Street crash affected you?
I’m sure it’s affected me. The price of gold sure has. But I’m not sure how, or what to do about it. But then the government seems not to know either.

Times, Post, or Daily News?
The Times, even on the soggy days when our cruel newspaper carrier flings the paper so hard, the blue plastic gets blown off as it’s airborne, damn him. But I steal the Post’s horoscope section from the guys at the boxing gym whenever I can. Sally Brompton never lies!!

Where do you go to be alone?
The women’s shower at the boxing gym. Nothing but us crickets in there.

What makes someone a New Yorker?
Attitude, man. Nothin' but attitude.