May 7, 2020

Time Magazine: Cooking in Quarantine With Top Chef Host Padma Lakshmi Means Tasting Many Nations

Once quotidian aspects of our lives can now feel like high-concept challenges thought up by malicious reality TV show producers. Dating without being able to touch is akin to Love Is Blind. Jockeying for the last few canned goods at the grocery store compares to Supermarket Sweep. And trying to cook over Zoom video chat with Padma Lakshmi feels like a Quickfire Challenge on Top Chef, the Emmy-winning reality show that Lakshmi has hosted for more than a decade.

That show is airing a highly anticipated all-star season right now, featuring the best competitors from years past. But rather than promoting the series, Lakshmi is stuck in her house like the rest of us. She’s been filling her time filming popular home-cooking Instagram videos with her daughter. “Television fetishizes food,” says Lakshmi. “We love to linger on these shots of Kobe beef. This moment will hopefully be a return to home cooking. Beans are looking pretty sexy now, huh?”

I want to cook with Lakshmi over Zoom, but coordinating our ingredients is an impossible task: in New York, grocery deliveries must be ordered days in advance, and even then some foods will be out of stock. So I watch Lakshmi cook, take copious notes and later try to replicate the results at home.

The pandemic is driving people inside and into their kitchens. Google searches for online cooking classes shot up by a factor of 15 from mid-February to mid-April. A recent survey from marketing firm Hunter found that 54% of people are cooking more than before the pandemic, and 75% say they feel more confident in the kitchen. Just over half of the people surveyed said they plan to cook more at home even once social distancing ends. For proof, look no further than social media, where home cooks are nursing their sourdough starters as tenderly as newborns and exchanging tips on how to grow a new stalk of scallions from old bulbs in a jar.

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