I recently came across this interview for Bon Appétit by the wonderful, Nina Elder, who's now an editor with Every Day with Rachael Ray. It was a fun exchange about easy cooking and my inspirations of food. It shares some of my favorite kitchen tips and gives you a few insights into my Lovely & Delicious point of view on living. The magazine changed directions before the interview was published, so I thought I'd give you the national exclusive right here.
When did you first start cooking?
My first memory of cooking was in 4th grade, though I am sure I started much earlier because I come from a family of great home cooks. I used my mama's Betty Crocker Kids Cookbook as an after-school companion while I waited for my parents to come home from work. I loved the art and science of cooking and viewed making recipes as experiments. My parents and grandparents always encouraged me and my culinary creations. It was a good creative outlet for me.
Who taught you to cook?
My grandmothers were always cooking for the family and our community – church, neighbors…anyone, really. I learned by watching them. My great-grandmother cooked Southern food for the small town in Southeastern Pennsylvania where my family is from. Every day, she would cook fried chicken, biscuits and coconut custard pies for lunch at her house. To me, it seemed the entire town knew Miss Zella and at least 10-15 people would be seated around her table all the time.
My grandmother, Clara, was a good cook, but she was an even better baker. She baked and decorated wedding cakes, Easter egg cakes and Halloween cupcakes for people in the community. While she made roses and daisies and other flowers from icing, she would have me right next to her with my own piping bag. She taught me how to make all kinds of frosting designs. It was a ton of fun and over time I created my own cakes that became hits with family and friends (this WAY before Food Network and shows like Ace of Cakes!).
Why do you like to cook?
I love to cook because it gives me a creative outlet. For me, after a long, challenging day, I escape in the kitchen and let go. More than that, though, I just love to share. And cooking allows me to do that. I love having people just stop over and sit at the table to enjoy some food. It brings me great joy and peace. I believe this is how we change the world.
What are your cooking inspirations (books, your travels, cookbooks, TV, magazines, etc.)?
I travel all over the world and love to experience everyday food from all cultures. But, it's really everyday people and my family and friends who inspire me. When they share a dish that they made show it to me because it was "just so good," that makes me smile. I have many cookbooks, but the ones I use over and over again are Tyler Florence's Real Kitchen, Sara Foster's Fresh Every Day and Susan Spungen's Recipes: A Collection for the Modern Cook.
Whom do you cook for (family, friends, etc.)?
I will cook for anyone, including myself. My grandparents always said, "there's always a plate at our table for you." I say the same thing.
Any tips on how to get good food on the table fast?
For me, food doesn't have to be perfect - it just has to taste good. I think it's OK to use jarred pestos, sauces and other prepared ingredients - as long as they are made from real, fresh ingredients. I rely on items like Bella Cucina's line of pestos and sauces to get fresh, simple meals together quickly.
What are your top three favorite foods?
That's easy… Root beer, mac n cheese and PIG.