'Taste the Nation' Takes Padma Lakshmi on a Meaningful, Mouthwatering Journey
This time, Top Chef host Padma Lakshmi is the one to pack her knives and go...around the United States, that is. On Taste the Nation, her new docuseries launching June 18 on Hulu with all 10 episodes, the cookbook author hits the road visiting—and cooking with—chefs in immigrant communities of El Paso, Texas, Honolulu, Hawaii and New York City. "We are a nation of immigrants," she says. "I wanted to show the various ways these groups of people have contributed to our country."
We talked with Lakshmi about her inspiration for the series, and what she learned.
This show is a really fresh take on not just food, but studying various cultures and their histories. How did you arrive on the concept?
After the 2016 election, I became involved with the ACLU as an ambassador for women’s reproductive health and immigration issues. Food is a language people are used to me speaking, and food is also a great way to break the ice between these [immigrant] communities. I wanted to humanize some of the very communities that have been vilified by this administration. The idea started as a cookbook, but I showed the proposal to my producing partner for another show I was working on, and he suggested this be the show we make.
I loved seeing you actually in the kitchen with all these amazing people making the dishes. Why was that important to include in the series?
So many people enjoy the foods of these various cultures but don’t often take the time to consider the hands making the dishes. We wanted to humanize this process and show that these people are no different than one’s own mother in her kitchen. They are perhaps just using different ingredients.
As you said, we often take food for granted and don't truly appreciate its history. What did you learn about Thai food and the Thai culture in America, for instance, that you didn't know before?
I didn’t know that the popularized, common Thai take out menu that we’ve all been ordering from was largely created by the Thai Royal Court in the 1930s. I found it fascinating that the ruler of Thailand used food as diplomacy, and to his credit had enormous success. Getting to know the people in this episode made me understand the nuances of regional Thai cuisine and what the various foods of each region taste like. That was a real education for me, and I’ve spent my life loving Thai food!
So after shooting 10 episodes, did your perspective on America change? Do you hope or expect viewers to see it differently, too?
Filming 10 episodes of this show reinforced my belief that the true riches of America are its people. I hope viewers come away with a greater appreciation for our diverse food landscape and understand that this is something we should appreciate, something we continue to enrich and evolve, and is not something we should fear. Decades of immigrants have all made American food incredibly interesting, crave-able and constantly anew. I’m glad I don’t live in a country where there is a mono food culture. How boring would that be? Variety is the spice of life, but it’s also what makes our country so delicious.
Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi, Series Premiere, Thursday, June 18, Hulu