Culinary entrepreneur Padma Lakshmi knows that the recipe for success is dedication, education, and the support of others. That's how the Top Chef executive producer and host became a leader in the food space with no cooking background. And now she's passed that knowledge on to other eager women in the industry.
That's why the cookbook author launched a program with Stacy's Pita Chips to provide $200,000 in funding, networking, and mentorship to five female founders in food and beverage businesses. Then on November 4, Lakshmi, who helped select the five finalists from a pool of 400 applicants, announced Hakuna Brands founder Hannah Hong as the $100,000 grand prize Stacy's Rise Project winner.
Of course, as a mom to nine-year-old Krishna, Lakshmi is also hoping to inspire her daughter to be a confident and driven woman. And a significant part of that is exposing her to travel. We were able to chat with the model-turned-chef as part of Stacy's announcement to learn more about why this project was important, how travel shaped her, and the one thing she always travels with.
What did you love most about the Stacy's Rise Project?
"The five finalists went through a rigorous mentoring program, and I think that was more beneficial than the cash grant because it allowed them to have a resource of information that they would not have had access to before. And I think that's the thing that we forget is that we can't have equality without having the support and access. Women should have the opportunity to strive for the same things. But if they're not well equipped to beat out their male counterparts, then the money won't help."
You've obviously had some support over the years that led to your success. But you also credit travel too, right?
"I took my first plane alone when I was four years old. I shuttled between New York and South India because my mom was a single mom. So in the summers, she sent me back to my grandparents for three months. She probably needed a break, and she didn't want me to lose the culture. And along the way, as I got older and became a teenager, I stopped in other countries. Then after I got out of college, I started modeling and was very lucky to be exposed to way more travel than I could have afforded. I would not be able to do what I do for a living if I hadn't had a lifetime of travel first."
What did it teach you?
"It gave me self reliance. It gave me independence. It taught me how to pack. I'm a huge believer that travel is basic to a well-rounded education for a human being. Your view is much broader, and hopefully, it makes you empathic when you have cultural differences."
And you've brought your daughter with you on a lot of your travels. Why is that important to you?
"Krishna has been traveling since she was an infant, and she's a great traveler. It's interesting to see how attuned the children are to taking cues from what they see. It makes you more observant when you have to exist in another culture that's not your own."
Absolutely. Given you do hit the road often, what's the first thing you do when you get to a new city?
"The first thing I do is find out where the things that I'm interested in, like food markets, hole in the wall restaurants, fancy restaurants, and spice markets are. If I'm there for work, I try to unpack everything immediately."
Do you have any packing hacks?
"I carry sarongs on the bottom and incense because it makes the clothes smell nice. And I put sarongs on the couches, so when I get out of the shower and put on cream, I don't have to sit on that strange couch. It's stupid little things, but it makes a difference, and it doesn't take up that much room."
Anything else you always pack?
"I also carry a jump. Again, it doesn't take up much space, and I can work out even if there isn't a gym. I basically have to be able to live out of my suitcase. So when we pack, it's a military operation."
You've been to so many places. What's your favorite hotel?
"I love Hotel D'Angleterre in Copenhagen. It's just beautiful. It also helped that I was there to eat at Noma, so maybe it was the anticipation of that. And Krishna learned to crawl on that trip."
What's your favorite city?
"Other than my home in New York, it would probably be London or Paris. London because it's the only city other than New York that is as diverse as I would like to be as diverse. And then Paris, because you really can live on a budget in Paris. The subway system is great; I just love the way the city looks. I'm always happy, and I don't mind going out alone in Paris."