Padma Lakshmi endured an incredibly emotional journey when she emigrated from India to the United States when she was just 4 years old. But even before she made the trip herself, she was faced with a heartbreaking situation.
The Top Chef host and judge recently penned a moving essay about the early years of her life when her mother left her to live in India with her grandparents so she could go to the U.S. to flee "an abusive marriage," find a job, and find "a safe place for us to land." "Every day, I'd sit on a step outside our house waiting for my mom to come back from work in America. The anguish of separation may have even contributed to a skin condition I developed around that time — terrible blisters all over my body in the summer heat, so bad my head had to be shaved," Padma wrote. "Today, I am far removed from that lost little girl who desperately missed her mother."
Padma as a child with her mother.
Padma shared that she relates to today's migrants who become separated from their children. "I know from experience that when a child is in her mother's arms — even in chaotic circumstances — all is right in the world. When that bond is broken, the child is unmoored. The temporary loss of my mother affected my confidence and my ability to see the world in a positive light. Even today, people close to me tease me that I'm always doom and gloom, that my mind goes straight to the worst-case scenario," Padma wrote. "When I finally came to the United States at 4 years old, I remember catching my first glimpse of my mother at JFK airport, so pretty and carrying an afghan she had knitted for me — and thinking the world was whole again."
Top Chef fans got to meet Padma's mother and Gail Simmons' mom when they participated in a challenge in Season 11 of the culinary competition (clip above). Padma previously opened up about how important being around her family in New York City and in India has been in helping her develop her love of food. "In New York, I'd roller-skate all over town," Padma wrote in an essay for The Wall Street Journal in 2015. "Even though I was vegetarian, I found I had lots of options—pizza and soda for under a dollar, a bagel with a half-pound of cream cheese on it for 50 cents, or a pretzel for a quarter. It was the early '80s and I was pretty independent. Mom cooked spicy vegetarian Indian food at home, which I loved. At my grandmother's house, I'd climb the painted concrete shelves of her pantry to search out the hottest pickles at the top."
Check out more photos from Padma's past, below.