Padma Lakshmi: Hi, thanks for having me.
LA: I would say my first ever Zoom interview was with you in March of last year, about one week into lockdown. And I think it’s safe to say that neither of us probably understood what the rest of 2020 was going to look like. How has the past year been for you?
PL: It’s been surreal, like for most people. I’ve actually been trying to write about it because I’m guest editing the Best American Travel Writing series for last year this year and I find myself really stymied for words, to just give name and shape to the sort of emptiness and dread that we’ve all felt. And I think the hardest thing has been not knowing. In many ways, when you spoke with me last year, just about around this time, I was probably a much happier person because I like most people thought, oh, this will be probably two, three weeks tops. It’ll be a nice and forced vacation for all of us. And I’ll be able to spend all this time with my daughter, which I did do, obviously. Which has been great, but has also been very illuminating in the sense that I always thought that I maybe would love to teach because I love children and things like that, but after going through homeschooling with Krishna, my 11-year-old, then 10-year-old, I realized that teachers are sort of these superheroes, which I always knew because they affected my life and my learning so much, but now I see how actually hard it is to do the job that they don’t get paid enough to do, as well.
And so there’ve been a lot of things like that, that have been very humbling for all of us. Thankfully, I didn’t get sick and nor did anyone in my immediate family, but I did know people who passed away and that’s been sort of hard because I know it intellectually has happened, I know those people are gone, but I haven’t, like many of us, been able to mourn or console the people who are closer to them. Any of those absurd things that we as human animals, human beings, do use to mark our own culture and society and things like that. It’s been a little bit like flailing in the dark.
You are Turkish, right?
LA: I am. Yes.
PL: I remember our interview. Yeah. Because I love Turkish food and I’ve only been to Turkey once, but yeah.
LA: I actually remember very clearly that you said that you and your daughter had made a chocolate cake. And I don’t know why that is stuck in my head, but I think it was because it was such a comforting image at a time where we really needed comforts.
PL: Yes. I suppose it’s my version of Marie Antoinette. When in crisis, make cake.
MC: Throughout these past 12 months, do you think your relationship with food or home cooking in particular—or cake—has changed while being grounded at home?
PL: Yes, to all of it. Yes, to all of it. One thing that I was always a firm believer in, but the pandemic has made me put into daily practice, is to not waste anything. They were all those months when you didn’t know what you were going to have access to, didn’t know what you were going to find. And so, we made stock out of everything. If it was a meat product, we saved it in a separate bag and froze it. If it were scallion tops, all these things that you’d probably chuck, but we put into another bag and kept that in the crisper. And when there was just a tablespoon or two of quinoa left over, I put it on a baking tray and doused it with olive oil and made some kind of gravel to give my salad crunch, when I didn’t have croutons or I don’t know what I was thinking. But I started candying nuts. I’m not sure why I thought that would be necessary.