Padma Lakshmi Says She 'Struggled' with Whether to Include Daughter Krishna on Taste the Nation
The holidays may be about bringing family together, but for Padma Lakshmi, the decision to feature her 11-year-old daughter on the new holiday-themed edition of Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi wasn't an easy one.
"I struggled with that," Lakshmi tells PEOPLE, as her hit Hulu series returns for a special set of all-new episodes. "My daughter gets paparazzi with me all the time in New York City and like any other parent, I'm proud of her, so I want to put her on my Instagram, etc. But I want her to choose when she is old enough about whether she wants to be exposed in that way."
"On the other hand, I'm going into people's homes and I'm in some very intimate situations with all of my participants, asking them to open up and expose themselves to me with my camera crew," Lakshmi adds. "So if I'm not willing to open up my own family and self, I would've felt inauthentic or disingenuous."
The new four-part holiday installment of Taste the Nation finds Lakshmi exploring America's unique traditions attached to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, New Years, Christmas, Seollal, and Nochebuena — all through the lens of a different immigrant culture.
Krishna appears alongside her mother in the Hanukkah-themed kickoff, the two dining on latkes in a family dinner.
"The other side of Krishna's family is Jewish," says Lakshmi, who shares her daughter with ex Adam Dell. "Her father's family, originally, is from New York and is Ashkenazi Jewish and did live on the Lower East Side. And so to do an episode about Ashkenazi Jews in New York and pretend that I have no connection to it would've been disingenuous. It made perfect sense for her to be there at that Hanukkah dinner. And so that's why she's there in that sequence."
Season 1 of the acclaimed series also featured Laskshmi's mother, Vijaya, in an episode about Indian food and cuisine.
Whether Krishna will appear in season 2, which has yet to be filmed, remains to be seen.
"As she grows, we will have to navigate what's appropriate for her," Lakshmi tells PEOPLE. "And then what creatively makes sense. I don't want to just stick her in an episode every season for the sake of it. That's not the intention certainly."
Still, Lakshmi — who executive produces Taste the Nation, in addition to her duties as host of Bravo's Top Chef — says that she enjoys the time she gets to spend with her daughter.
"It's nice for me to also take her to work because I am gone from home. I have two shows, both of which are traveling shows. So I'm gone from home 50% of the time," Lakshmi notes. "Krishna always traveled with me, and was on the set of Top Chef all of her life. But now she's growing up and she has her own life and school is important, so she doesn't come for the whole season of Top Chef, so whenever I can take her with me for selfish reasons, I just want her close to me."
Taste the Nation has received critical praise for uncovering the roots and relationship between America's food, humanity and history — all while highlighting stories that challenge notions of identity, belonging, and what it means to be American along the way.
"I'm always working hard with all of my team on Taste the Nation to try and give us full and deep a picture of a culture as I can in 30 minutes," Lakshmi says, adding that the holiday special will also feature a couple of LGBTQ+ members to "add another layer to our storytelling."
The holiday special edition came about when the coronavirus pandemic held up production on season 2 of the Hulu series, Lakshmi explains.
"We were trying to weigh when we could actually start filming again, but it would've been the middle of next year before I could finish filming a whole season of 10 episodes," the cookbook author says. " I didn't want the audience to wait that long. I was worried that they would lose interest or forget. So someone at Hulu suggested, 'What if we did a twist and made them about the holidays?' and I thought her suggestion was just brilliant. We were able to get four episodes filmed before I went to and do Top Chef, which I'm in production on right now."
Each episode feels "special" to Lakshmi. "You can tell a lot about a culture by what they celebrate, what they commemorate, and what they want their future generations to focus and remember," she says. "It turned out, creatively, to be something really useful as far as giving a different element of culture to the audience."
"You know, it has been the joy of my life and the privilege of my life to be able to go into these homes and visit with these communities," she adds, about making Taste the Nation. "I typically go to a community and spend a week there and embed myself there and spend different days with different members of that community. It has been so eye-opening and informative on an intellectual level, but also really on a personal level.
"I got to break bread with my fellow Americans. I got to live in these communities and learn a little bit of what it's like to walk in their shoes. And I consider that a huge, huge, hugely enriching experience for me."
As for Lakshmi's own holiday plans, she tells PEOPLE that keeping things informal is key.
"My holidays for Thanksgiving and Christmas are very simple: it's just to get my family together under one roof and eat and play board games like Pictionary or charades and lie around and chat and chide each other and tease each other and be together," she says. "That's all we do. The most important thing to me about the holidays is that everybody is off so no one is expecting you to answer your emails. You get to just be together."
There is one thing Lakshmi insists everyone does.
"For Christmas, I always give out onesies to my extended family. There are about 12 or 15 of us at any given time and we just all wear the same onesie in different sizes," she laughs. "They're atrocious. They're so ugly, but they're everything you imagine them to be."
"I don't want anyone to stress. I don't want anyone to have to get dressed up or wear high heels or fuss. I always just say, 'Come over as early as you can on the day and stay as long as you like,' " she continues. "And then we just lay around. We decorate cookies. We make a gingerbread house. We make cocktails. We eat and lay around and just play games. It's perfect."
Taste the Nation: Holiday Edition is streaming now on Hulu.
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