Padma Lakshmi’s Picture Book ‘Tomatoes for Neela’ to be Released on Aug. 31

  • The book celebrates food and family and describes the relationship between a mother and a daughter.

Padma Lakshmi, bestselling author and host of Bravo’s “Top Chef” and Hulu’s “Taste the Nation,” is launching a picture book, “Tomatoes for Neela,” which celebrates food and family. Lakshmi has teamed up with award-winning illustrator Juana Martinez-Neal for the book, geared for little ones ages 4-8,  which is coming out on Aug. 31. Laskmi released the book cover in April, and announced the book on her social media handles. “I wrote my first children’s book! ‘Tomatoes for Neela’ is coming on  August 31st!  It’s a true celebration of food & family & I can’t wait for you to read it with your little one.”

Penguin Random House says Neela, the book’s protagonist, cooks with her amma. They go together to a market to buy tomatoes for her paati’s tomato sauce recipe. Through cooking, Neela is also able to connect with her paati, who lives in India.

In an interview with Publishers Weekly, Lakshmi said the idea for the book came when her 11-year-old daughter, Krishna Thea, asked for fresh pomegranates in July. “I was horrified; it’s high summer and you don’t eat them until it’s cold,” she said with a laugh. Upon realizing that many children may not understand the origin of what they are eating, she decided to write something.

“I wanted to create a story that taught my daughter about respecting the seasons, knowing when different things grew and also where our food comes from,” she told Publishers Weekly. “Having grown up in both the United States and India (where she spent her childhood summers), Lakshmi saw this book as an opportunity to take their weekly jaunts to the local farmer’s market and create a story that celebrates her Indian heritage, family and their shared love of food.”

Lakshmi told People that inspiration for her book comes from bonding with her family through food. “I was inspired by the many incredible women in my family and one of the most important ways we bonded was through food,” she said. 

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Speaking on the significance of tomatoes in Indian cooking, she said: “Tomatoes are such an integral part of Indian cuisine and one of my favorite fruits — I wanted to highlight the importance of healthy and seasonal eating and how children are more excited to eat and enjoy the foods that they have helped to prepare.”

Also included are fun facts about tomatoes and a tribute to the farmers who harvest the vegetable— an idea that was suggested by the book’s illustrator, Juana Martinez-Neal, as per Publishers Weekly. Lakshmi told Publishers Weekly that she “recognizes the disconnect between the tomato on the dinner table and the hands that picked it,” and that “the book is an attempt to shorten that distance. Those people deserve to be paid well and to have safe conditions,” she said. She hopes that the book not only helps kids become more interested in their food and where it comes from, but that they’ll ultimately develop a healthy mind and body. “If a child grows up to be a person who is interested in what they feed themselves, you will give them an appreciation about their own nutrition that will supersede your presence in their lives,” she said. 

The book will also include one of Lakshmi’s recipes.

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