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Padma Lakshmi

Shopping Union Square & getting seriously schooled in all things culinary with our favorite Top Chef.

We're big proponents of the idea that some things are just better done with a guide, or a chaperone, if you will. After all, bring along the people who are in the know, and you’re sure to see more of the good stuff, right? Haim, for example: we can't think of better companions for sitting front row during Paris Fashion Week. Or Lynn Yaeger, who decidedly knows her way around a bazaar or two, when it comes to scouring through the goldmine (pardon the pun) that is the Gold Souk. Oh, and Nate Berkus: definitely the eagle-eyed expert you'd want by your side while getting in way-deep at a Manhattan flea market.

With that in mind, while we’re big fans of all things delicious and consider ourselves not half bad in the kitchen arena—from massaging kale to um, ordering in the perfect Pad Thai—shopping for groceries often entails your standard trip to Whole Foods (or, on especially late n' lazy nights, a box of macaroni or cereal picked up from our local bodega). We’d love to be the types who rise early on a Saturday morning to hit the local farmer’s market, but we’re just so not (late Friday night, um, revelry doesn’t help in that department either and an XXL bunch complete with hair-of-the-dog cocktail is admittedly our first priority). That said, you can imagine how heading to the Union Square’s overwhelmingly huge, farm-fresh market one recent summer morning was one of those, well, chaperone-necessary situations.

Thankfully, Padma Lakshmi, model, actress, cookbook author, host of Top Chef and all-around-foodie, was available to accompany us (don’t you just love it when that happens?). Let’s just say we let Lakshmi take the lead as she shopped the fresh produce-stuffed stands for ingredients for a healthy lunch. (She kept us to a strict $100 budget.) But we’ll be the first to tell you that when Padma Lakshmi is your shopping buddy, it’s hardly your average leisurely stroll through the market. For one thing, Lakshmi might just be the best-looking, most glamorous gourmet we’ve ever come across—to say she attracted an, ahem, fair amount of attention is an extreme understatement. One woman laden with bags of produce stopped to gush that Lakshmi was the reason that she even started cooking in the first place, while others went so far as to request #selfies—not that we can really blame them. And then, Padma being Padma, we ran into Jean Georges Vongertichten—as in the chef behind not one, but two three Michelin-starred Manhattan restaurants. To put it into a more Cov-friendly context, think of them as the food world’s equivalent of Karl Lagerfeld and Phoebe Philo (and us as the third wheel).

Together, they perused the produce stalls (Jean Georges persuaded her to purchase some particularly plump-looking yellow summer squash), but let it be known that Lakshmi is no gourmet slouch when she’s solo, either. Instead of coming with a recipe at the ready and a list of items to buy (you know, the go-to method of us mere mortals), she went on a spree that only a practiced foodie could pull off, conjuring up a recipe as based on the freshest ingredients she could find. 

“I bought some sorrel and some beautiful Thai basil, some mussels,” she enthused. “And now we’re going to get some yellow summer squash, which we are going to cook in a light broth. We need some onions or scallions, some greens—we’re going to have that over a bed of rice with shishito peppers and a salad.” Is your mouth watering yet? “And strawberries,” she exclaimed, coming upon a stall of organic red berries. “We’ll have strawberries and honey for dessert!” Padma, next time, we’re totally tagging along for the whole cooking and, ahem, eating portion too.

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