By 2001, I had begun writing for magazines: first Vogue, then a style column in Harper’s Bazaar, and a regular stint on food and fashion at the New York Times syndicate. I was still doing occasional modeling jobs here and there, but I began to enjoy the writing much more. That is to say, I enjoyed having written, once the piece was done. I still had serious insecurities as a writer, which being published did nothing to assuage. I was lucky in that Glenda Bailey of Harper’s and Gloria Anderson at the Times pretty much left me to write about whatever interested me. I began by doing a piece for Anna Wintour on the scar on my arm, but I was terrified of writing it. Here, my future husband was extremely supportive and edited the piece before it went to Vogue. Having him upstairs in his office while I was down in the basement writing was daunting. But if I really got in a jam, it was also helpful—except that he knew little about fashion and had little patience for being interrupted. But he damn well did know how to write.
The series on the Food Network did not get renewed after the first season. I did land a gig hosting a couple of documentaries called Planet Food for the network and for Discovery International. A sort of light precursor to Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations (but with better hair!), it involved my traveling to a country and getting to know its people through their food. They were hard shoots, but I was totally in my element. I loved nothing more than spelunking around a place and tasting my way through it. I had done as much throughout my modeling career anyway. All those years of traveling to shoot French bras in Bali and Scottish sweaters in the Seychelles led me to taste and experience the world in a way I would have never been able to otherwise.
Because I had started modeling later than most, after my bachelor’s degree, I was able to appreciate it more. At the end of those many trips, my suitcase was jam-packed with strange spices and sauces, seeds and twigs. I would use these in my own kitchen back in Milan, Paris, or New York to try to re-create what I had tasted in those various corners of the planet. Coming from India and spending what seemed like most of my upbringing in the kitchens of my grandmother, mother, and various aunts (that’s where all the action was, after all), I valued and took a keen interest in spices. Living and cooking in Europe during my twenties taught me for the first time about French technique. And the modeling jaunts afforded me the possibility to learn how people ate in other parts of the world. But I was just a good cook with a bottomless curiosity about food. I had never in my life entertained the idea of a career in the culinary arts in any form until the Food Network thought I was capable of one. I still wasn’t sure they were right. I would have never even thought of publishing that first cookbook, but my publisher, who suggested the idea, thought there was a marketing hook, banking on our culture’s curiosity about models and their diets.