1. What did you have for breakfast this morning?
A half-eaten bagel with cream cheese that my daughter left behind, two pieces of sourdough toast with avocado, a boiled egg, grapefruit, and two cups of tea.
2. What's the first dish a home cook should master?
An omelet — because eggs can overcook in a second. Then roast chicken.
3. Most common mistake you see beginner cooks make in the kitchen?
Adding too many ingredients to a dish.
4. When you're not filming Top Chef, how do you tend to cook and eat at home?
I'm pretty plant-based. I'll stock my kitchen with basics: rices and grains, lentils, beans. Then I'll just use any trips to the store to fill in the vegetables and dairy. A lot of it is mixing and matching, and repurposing leftovers. One night might be white bean stew with tomatoes and bell peppers. The next day I'll scoop it over quinoa, or fry an egg on top for breakfast.
5. How has having your 6-year-old daughter changed the way you cook and eat?
I feel like it's a lot more fun to cook now because she always wants to help. She's a really curious, fun mind in the kitchen — she loves smashing spices in her mortar and pestle. The downside is I tend to become a human garbage can when she's around; whatever ends up left on her plate usually ends up in my stomach.
6. Best tip for parents who are raising picky eaters?
Don't make one meal for the parents and one meal for the kids. You should eat what you want them to eat. Because no matter what you tell them, they'll follow your actions more than they'll follow your words.
7. Top Chef is filming in Charleston this season. What are your top three US cities for food?
San Francisco, New York, and Seattle.
8. On the show, what happens to the pantry ingredients that don't get used?
If they're perishable, anyone from the crew can take them. Our catering staff will also use them for crew meals, and I'll look through them too. My daughter travels with me when we film, so I'll use those leftovers to make her dinner instead of ordering food. Simple stuff — like noodles with tofu, or spaghetti with turkey ragu.
9. What's a lipstick that you know will last through a marathon meal?
NARS Velvet Matte lip pencil in Dolce Vita. It's pretty all-purpose and is easy to apply without a mirror. On the show, I've actually hid it under Judges' Table and will quickly reapply when the cameras cut away to a chef. We'll sometimes take hours to film — without a break for makeup — so we have to get creative and do it on the fly.
10. You've talked pretty openly about what you've called "the only bad part" of hosting the show: gaining and losing weight every season. As you told The Cut: "I usually gain about 10 to 15 pounds every season ... they take me six weeks to gain and 12 weeks to lose." How do you manage that?
When we're not shooting, I do an elimination diet. For me, I've found it's easier to not eat whole categories than it is to count calories. So I cut red meat, fried foods, added sugar, bread, wheat, and pasta — and alcohol, which is the hardest thing. I'll also go easy on dairy. Workout-wise, I mix things up. I box, jump rope, lift weights, and do treadmill, stairs, and Pilates. I try to fit in at least an hour each day. It doesn't always work out, but I try to be as consistent as I can.
11. Quickfire! If you could be on any other reality show besides Top Chef, which one would you pick?
12. Drink of choice at a bar?
Patrón on the rocks with lime juice and a splash of club soda.
13. And, related: go-to hangover cure?
Egg-in-the-hole with a side of honey mustard bacon.
14. ...Honey mustard bacon? o.O
It's so good! Whisk two parts honey, and one part mustard, then drizzle it over the bacon as it cooks in the pan.
15. Last show you binge-watched on Netflix?
16. Favorite food to cook with that comes in a can?
San Marzano tomatoes.
17. Celebrity girl crush?
18. One junk food you know you could never give up?
19. What's an Indian specialty or staple dish you think should be more popular in the US?
Lentils. So many people don't know about them. Indian food is very regional, and a lot of the most popular Indian dishes in the US come from Northern India. But I think Southern Indian food — like lentil stews with lots of vegetables and coconut — would be something most Americans would love.
20. And finally: Best piece of advice you've ever received?
'Don't rehearse unhappiness.' We have a tendency to play out the worst-case scenario in our minds as a coping mechanism. But I think it's also important to rehearse happiness, too — and your ideal outcome. It gives us all something positive to focus on and shoot for.
For more on Padma, tune in to Top Chef — airing Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/8 CT on Bravo — or follow her on Instagram.