02/04/2011 AT 04:00 PM EST
host Padma Lakshmi's passion for entertaining and good food has roots in her native India, where she soaked up her grandmother's wisdom in the kitchen.
"I learned the most hanging out there," the 40-year-old cookbook author of Tangy Tart Hot & Sweet
says of her childhood visits to her grandmother's home in Tanjore in southern India.
"My grandmother always told me there needs to be a balance of flavors," Lakshmi says. "A hot chutney should have a sweet note and even sweet should have a hint of salt at the end."
It was also there that she fell in love with tea, an integral "part of my cultural heritage," prompting the foodie to begin "mixing my own teas." The hobby eventually turned into a business – and now Lakshmi's Easy Exotic blooming tea line is available at HSN.com. Her personal favorites? Jasmine white rose and French breakfast tea.
With so many culinary projects underway, Lakshmi bought the Manhattan apartment above the one she shares with her 1-year-old daughter Krishna, creating her own dream workspace to test new recipes and throw her impromptu tea parties
"There's something very elegant and comforting about the tea ritual," she says, adding that the intimate soirees are "a great way to get together with loved ones."
For more about Padma's teas and her dream kitchen, check out Cooking with the Stars
, on newsstands now.