“My game is strong,” boasts Padma Lakshmi, award-winning cookbook author, host, and executive producer of Hulu’s new series “Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi,” in the opening credits of her new, sizzling and surprisingly political series about food and the people that create it.
Lakshmi is best known for being one of the hosts of the reality competition cooking show Top Chef for over a decade. Hulu’s Taste the Nation with Padma Lakshmi, will be Lakshmi’s first solo show.
Lakshmi put both of her proverbial feet into this series that explores much more than just-food. Our passionate and empathic host takes audiences on a journey across America, exploring the rich and diverse food culture of various immigrant groups, seeking out the people who have so heavily shaped what American food is today.
From indigenous and often forgotten communities to recent immigrant arrivals dealing with prejudice and government changes, Lakshmi breaks bread with Americans across the nation to uncover the roots and relationship between our food, our humanity and our history – ultimately revealing stories that challenge notions of identity, belonging, and what it means to be American.
In the first episode entitled “Burritos at the Border” Lakshmi takes a journey through El Paso which was once a part of Mexico. Its border location defines the region’s identity and the complexity of America’s political landscape. Keeping an open mind, heart, and mouth, Padma eats her way through this border city while discovering the origins of one of America’s most beloved cuisines.
Pressing into our shared humanity and using food as our connector, one El Paso customer remarked that it’s “hard to believe that people are going to accept my tortillas before they accept my cousins.”
“Who am I?,” asks the James Beard award-winning writer, culinary historian, and educator Michael Twitty in episode four entitled “The Gullah Way.” In this gripping episode, Twitty describes being just eight generations removed from his ancestorial home in Serone Leone, Africa, his ancestors brought to South Carolina, which was one of the largest markets for enslaved people.
Many enslaved Africans were chosen because of their special abilities, and here they were specifically brought to harvest rice (a difficult crop) eventually turning Carolina’s swampland into a thriving business for their White masters. Today, hard to believe but the Gullah Geechee people of South Carolina are fighting to preserve the traditions passed down from their West African ancestors. Not afraid of hard work, Lakshmi catches and cracks crab working aside these people who are working towards reclaiming their heritage.
“Can you feel their energy,” Twitty asks earnestly of Lakshmi in which she responds that she does. So did I. So will you.
In each of the ten episodes —“Burritos at the Border”, “The All American Weiner”, “Don’t Mind if I Dosa”, “The Gullah Way”, “What is Chop Suey Anyway?”,Where the Kebob is Hot”, The Original Americans”, Dancing in Little Lima!”, “The Pad Thai Gamble” and “Zen and the Art of Poke” — Lakshmi, dives into each culture not afraid (at all) to get her hands dirty.
To wit in Honolulu, which is deeply influenced by the Japanese culture, she slings fish and rolls sushi while listening to stories on what happened when the Japanese immigrants first docked on Hawaii’s shores.
“As they say in West Africa, if you sit at my table and eat with me, you will know who I am,” reminded Michael Twitty.
“Taste The Nation with Padma Lakshmi” executive produced by Padma Lakshmi along with Part2 Pictures’ David Shadrack Smith and Sarina Roma — is inclusive, culturally aware, entertaining, and wonderfully educational. It reminded me of Thomas Keller’s quote about our soul’s connection to food, saying this: “A recipe has no soul. You, as the cook, must bring soul to the recipe.”
“Taste The Nation with Padma Lakshmi” episode descriptions:
EP 101 “Burritos at the Border”
El Paso was once part of Mexico. Its border location defines the region’s identity and the complexity of America’s political landscape. Lakshmi eats her way through this border city while discovering the origins of one of America’s most beloved cuisines.
EP 102 “The All American Weiner”
Hot dogs, hamburgers, pretzels… Many think these foods are quintessentially American, but their origins are German. In Milwaukee, Padma meets descendants of early German immigrants who hold onto their heritage by celebrating and reclaiming it.
EP 103 “Don’t Mind if I Dosa”
Lakshmi asks family, friends, and those she admires how they hold onto Indian culture and pass it to the next generation. In NYC, she cooks the dishes that remind her of her original home and tastes Indian foods near her current home.
EP 104 “The Gullah Way”
The Gullah Geechee people of South Carolina are fighting to preserve the traditions passed down from their ancestors, West Africans forced into slavery. Lakshmi catches and cracks crab with new friends and old, all working towards reclaiming their heritage.
EP 105 “What is Chop Suey Anyway?”
Chinese food is one of the most popular cuisines in the U.S. but the flavors of a vast country have been simplified over time. In San Francisco, Padma explores how Chinese immigrants and Chinese-Americans are broadening our understanding of this cuisine
EP 106 “Where the Kebob is Hot”
Lakshmi tastes her way through Los Angeles, sampling one of her favorite cuisines: Persian food. The community opens up about the misconceptions some Americans have about Iranians, one kebab at a time.
EP 107 “The Original Americans”
What is the original American cuisine? Lakshmi travels to Arizona to eat food that is indigenous to this land. She tries some surprising dishes and explores how Native Americans seek to reestablish a connection to the past to protect their future.
EP 108 “Dancing in Little Lima!”
Peruvian cuisine hasn’t quite had its moment on the American food scene, but Lakshmi knows the power of a great bowl of ceviche. She visits Paterson, New Jersey, a Peruvian enclave, for a deeper look at this vibrant culture.
EP 109 “The Pad Thai Gamble”
Las Vegas is home to one of the largest groups of Thai immigrants in the country, many of whom were women who came here after marrying American soldiers during the Vietnam War. Lakshmi hears their stories over delicious food – Pad Thai is just the start.
EP 110 “Zen and the Art of Poke”
Lakshmi dives into Japanese culture, ubiquitous in Honolulu, to understand just how far their cultural footprint reaches. She slings fish and rolls sushi where a century and a half ago Japanese immigrants first docked on Hawaii’s shores.