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She didn’t see her father again for another 20 years.“I know through some twist of fate my mother and I were able to get out of India and then make a life here in America because she had a family that supported her and she had an education,” she says.

Her mother was a nurse and was able to obtain a lucrative professional visa.“But what would have happened if my mom had been in the same type of abusive marriage and had not had an education or was not supported by her family because she was from some rural village and they were backward in their thinking? I think about who I am and how I became this way because of a lot of blessings in my life.”She began modeling when she was in her twenties, before hosting a handful of TV shows in Italy and on the Food Network in the U. When she was hired to host , people may have assumed the network was just inserting another model into another TV series.

In our series, Note To Self, "Top Chef" host Padma Lakshmi shares her personal journey in a letter to her five-year-old self. She's also served as an ACLU ambassador and started a foundation for women with endometriosis. You'll seek shelter, girl, in the most unlikely places, until you realize that the best roof over your head is the one you build with your own convictions. Womanhood comes with a handicap you won't understand. You'll see that this is the belonging that you've always searched for all your life.

Lakshmi is also an activist with a newly announced role as a Goodwill Ambassador in the United Nations Development Program. For the first time you'll feel that being "other" is okay. Belonging or finding some haven, this will be the theme of your life, girl. And while this may feel like exile, it'll gain you the knowledge for your life's work. You'll be a mom and your heart will burst with a happiness you've never known or thought possible.

You can have empathy and be honest.”It’s not hard to draw a parallel between that signature of Lakshmi’s and the ways in which she’s broken out of the mold of calm-and-collected TV host to publicly lay herself bare, the kind of honesty with empathy—though perhaps with more anger than you’ll see on Bravo—that has the power to, at the risk of sounding hyperbolic or naive, change the world.

Beyond the messaging, she says, it makes for good TV.

For so long when you’re a young person trying to become who you’re going to be, you’re just thankful for a job and for having a foot in the door. You’re just thinking of getting along, especially if you’re a woman. Still, she recognizes the impact the show’s gender diversity, especially, has had.

Crestfallen doesn’t even begin to describe the expression of a young cook who, moments after presenting the host, judge, and executive producer with a tasting dish, is met with a raised eyebrow.

It’s fitting, then, that when I bring this up to her, she can’t even pretend. “I really can’t hide it.” But there’s something different about her brand of honest judging.

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