The name “Padma” was like a prayer on the lips of Miamians during the weekend of the Miami Book Fair International. She was in Miami for one night and one day to promote her new cookbook, Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet.
“Padma is coming for dinner tomorrow night” said the general manager of the Raleigh Hotel restaurant when I went there for lunch.
“Padma is having a book party and they’re making the boiled peanuts recipe from her book.”
“Did you hear? Padma’s coming.”
Her name easily falls off the tongue and with it an immediate association to her long flowing brown hair, her sylph-like frame, and her honey-coated voice that dispenses Top Chef contestants with a swift “Pack your knives and go.” Top Chef is the wildly popular chef reality series on Bravo that she co-hosts.
Being neither a chef nor Top Chef contestant, I didn’t know what to expect from this media sensation. I had just received her book a few days before we were scheduled to meet and one evening, at my hotel’s grill on the bay, by candlelight, I poured through the glossy pages of Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet.
Laced with vignettes of an international childhood and intimate memories of a life in food (like Jhoti the boiled peanut man), Padma tells us her “identity can be very accurately traced through [her] fork.” She reminds us that as Americans, a country where most of us can trace our roots to an Old World connection, we all have a naturally “eclectic” palate. Even if we don’t have those connections, we eat “a little of this and a little of that…one day sushi, another Thai, a third Italian, and the fourth day…maybe Mexican, or how about Moroccan?”
Padma writes about exotic food and spice combinations as easily as one might pepper a conversation with, “When I was in Morocco last summer we ate this wonderful dish”. Chili honey butter, lemon ginger jam, and chipotle date chutney give new dimensions to fish, pasta and soup dishes.
And get this: Her recipes are easy to make.
SLOANE: You talk about your mother and how she was a great what’s-in-the-fridge-throw-it-together kind of cook. It seems like you cook similarly. Is that how you come up with your dish ideas?