Padma Lakshmi thinks tequila is a spirit for all seasons.
The executive producer and host of “Top Chef” gained a deeper appreciation for the alcohol while filming season 14 of Bravo’s hit reality cooking show — which dropped last night. While this season is based in Charleston, South Carolina, a later episode brings its contestants even farther south to Jalisco, Mexico, where they compete to make the best tequila cocktail at sponsor Patrón ’s Hacienda distillery.
The 46-year-old actress — and author of a new cookbook, “The Encyclopedia of Spice and Herbs”—talks us through tequila food pairings, shares her signature spicy margarita — and a bevy of other ways to enjoy the versatile liquor.
Her spicy margarita
While some might think of spices and herbs as cocktail additives, for Lakshmi, it’s the other way around: “I think a cocktail is beautifully suited as a vehicle for spices and herbs,” she says, adding that they’ve been used in alcoholic beverages for centuries.
“I don’t, generally speaking, like sweet, mixed cocktails,” she says.
Instead, her firey margarita gets its kick from fresh lime, ginger and turmeric—which, Lakshmi notes, comes from her hometown of Kerala, India—and a salt and ancho chili powder rim.
“I don’t often drink in the afternoon, but you could have this at lunch and feel like you’re being virtuous because of the ginger and turmeric in it,” she says.
Other favorite ways to enjoy the spirit?
“I think you can put tequila in anything. Anything you normally use vodka in, you can swap out for tequila,” she says.
She prefers it on the rocks with lots of lime and muddled mint leaves. “It’s the best way," she says. "You can taste the nuances of the agave."
Or, if you like sweet: she suggests Patrón' s Xo Cafe Incendio Chile Chocolate liqueur as an after dinner drink. Lakshmi prefers it in an Italian affogato: a half shot of the tequila (in place of the traditional shot of espresso) poured over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. “It tastes like bitter chocolate and chili,” she says.