A couple weeks ago, Padma Lakshmi was promoting her new cookbook at Borders but it didn't fit into my schedule that night. But then my friend, Destiny, saw she would be at the Strand last night. What would it hurt to go, if only because we are both die-hard Top Chef fans? A month or so ago, I saw Top Chef Season 2 winner Ilan Hall at a cooking demonstration. It was slightly disappointing only because 1) not many in the audience really had a clue who he was and 2) Ilan made a head cheese sandwich -- I want more from a cooking demonstration than a sandwich, especially with a product I will probably never use in my life, like head cheese.
Back to Padma. So I went last night, convincing myself I wouldn't get sucked into buying the cookbook. On the show, Padma is a bit reserved and lukewarm in personality but while she read essays from her cookbook and answered audience questions, she was charming, warm and funny. I was instantly mesmerized, especially when she spoke of her love of boiled peanuts and bacon.
During the talk, we realized the other two judges from Top Chef -- Gail Simmons and Tom Colicchio -- were in the audience too. Destiny and I were beyond ecstatic -- grinning like lunatics, just giddy from the luck of it all. Padma answered questions, and we learned things like the next Top Chef should air in the spring and creepy men come up to her on the street asking her tell them the Top Chef dismissal line -- "pack your knives and go" (she smartly refuses..). Destiny and I decided this had been well indeed worth buying the book, "Tangy Tart Hot and Sweet: A World of Recipes for Every Day," so we had Padma sign our book and asked if we could get a picture with her, except that it turned out a bit blurry. Gail and Tom (because we're on a first-name basis now, you see) were on the side, waiting for her to finish, and we politely asked if we could get a pic with them too. "Only if you're in it!" Colicchio said.
They were all nice, gracious and genuinely pleased when we said we loved the show. I haven't had too many celebrity experiences but this will forever top the rest.
I flipped through her cookbook during the reading, pleasantly surprised by the complexity and exoticness of the recipes. Some of the ingredients will take time to track down, especially if you're not in the New York area. Overall though, the food photography is exceptional, and I like that the recipes have an exotic twist on the traditional, like Pineapple and Pomegranate Crumble and Braised Plum Granita. A few recipes I have on my "to-try" list for now are the Tomato Chutney, Mexican Mac & Cheese and Red Stripe Chicken. But the Chili Honey Butter will be the first I try. I can already taste it spread on some cornbread. And don't think all the recipes in the book are this easy!
Padma's Chili Honey Butter
1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon cayenne
Combine all ingredients and whip in a blender or processor or just by hand with a fork until they form a smooth sauce. Spoon it into a rigid plastic container and keep covered in the fridge.
(Makes one cup.)