Padma Lakshmi

Padma Lakshmi reveals her favorite comort food, why she loved the TGIFriday's challenge, and why cooking with kids in mind is key.

on Nov 1, 2006

The last time I was in a TGIFriday's must have been when I was in high school, so I don't know what their menu is like now, but I can guess. I loved this Elimination Challenge because it had to do with childhood favorites. No matter how sophisticated we all think we are, it's often the things we grew up with that give us the most comfort and pleasure. And sometimes that's what we want most, unfussy, simple food. Betty said that a good chef has to have versatility and she's absolutely right. You should be able to cater to a wide variety of palates and preferences. And the biggest mistake you can make is to underestimate or look down on your patrons.

I loved being there at the fire house, too. Something about the easy comaraderie of those fire fighters made the station a very welcome place, and we actually had a couple of calls that the guys had to go out and deal with -- luckily it was nothing serious. I talked with the fire fighters about everything from food (many pride themselves on being serious cooks), boxing, how to put out a kitchen fire (always smother it, don't splash water over it, ever), and how their families deal with their work. It was a fun and enlightening episode and I think the challenges gave the contestants a chance to catch their breath, after feeding 1,000 food fair patrons, a fire house seemed to be a piece of cake.

And yet, Frank's choice of that Alice and Wonderland mushroom meditation was ill conceived to say the least. No one will ever order that dish. It wasn't comforting, or satisfying -- just strange and a bit too clever for the venue. But that is not to say feeding patrons in casual dining establishments is an easy task, especially since a chain of restuarants like TGIFriday's has hundreds of outlets and all those menus have to, for the most part, be standarized; not easy when you think of the regional tastes of this country and how they may differ. Betty's roasted pepper-tomato soup and grilled cheese was my absolute favorite because it aced the challenge in every respect. Mia's meatloaf was something else I would order again, especially with the ketcherella ... it showed creativity, while using familiar ingredients.