Welcome to Dream Dinner Party, where we ask notable figures to describe just that: the dinner party of their dreams.
Padma Lakshmi is often on the go. She traveled to London to film the 20th season of Top Chef, which features contestants drawn from the 29 international versions of the show. For the new season of Taste the Nation, a docuseries that explores the food of indigenous and immigrant communities in the US, she sampled the Cambodian food in Lowell, Massachusetts, and learned to flatfoot dance in Appalachia. Over lunch in New York City we talk about entertaining closer to home.
Who would you invite to your dream dinner party?
Director Joel Schumacher, a dear friend who died a few years ago. He had a million interesting stories, all just a little naughty. He’s one of the most intellectual people I’ve met. The writer Michael Cunningham; he has a light in his eyes and a wicked sense of humor. My daughter, who is funny and always steals the show. And my girlfriend and fairy godmother, Susan Sarandon. Also Muhammad Ali. I met him once, at the dry cleaner. I actually had my boxing wraps on because I was coming from a boxing gym. I was tongue-tied.
If you were to invite any *__Top Chef __*contestants, who would you pick?
Fatima Ali. After she was diagnosed with cancer, I wanted her to meet some of her idols, like Susan Sarandon. So I had a dinner party for her. She was very funny. And Kevin Gillespie. He has the soul of a poet. We have so many hours of Kevin just talking about the beauty of a peach. It’s as if he’s channeling M.F.K. Fisher.
Where do you host?
At my home. I’m going to cook 70 percent of it ahead of time. The best advice I can give any cook: Do yourself a favor and plan your menu in a way that allows you to have fun and not be stressed.
What’s on the menu?
Jerk chicken, coconut or lemon rice. And a vegetable curry with lots of ginger.
Is there a dress code?
I want people to come as they feel the most beautiful. For some that’s jeans and a T-shirt. For others it’s a sexy dress.
How do you set the table?
I have antique silver that I’ve been collecting. Instrumental music for ambience.
What advice would you give to someone looking to host a memorable dinner party?
It’s nice to have an activity in the kitchen for your guests to break the ice. Like “Here, can you two make the salad?”
Any other tips?
It’s the people that make a good dinner party. The silverware doesn’t really matter; the plates can be paper. It’s in the exchange.