Don't think, just do
Some of the most valuable advice I've ever received came from chef Fernand Chambrette, who was my instructor when I was at cooking school in France. He was crazy, but very wise. On the day of the final exam, we all got our black boxes, which contained a bunch of ingredients, and then we were supposed to make four courses. It wasn't like the crazy stuff you see on reality shows today where they'll get octopus ears or something like that. I think it was leeks and fish and just normal things, but for whatever reason I just froze under the pressure. Chef Chambrette came over to ask me what was wrong and when I told him that I was panicking, he reminded me that I had been cooking all year and that I knew how to do this, so I should just do it. He told me to trust what I know, and I just thought that was such a great piece of wisdom that it has become sort of a mantra over the years when I was doing the live show or if I'm speaking in front of an audience. Often our nerves will take over and try to paralyze us, and that's when you have to just move forward and trust in what you know. Because you know it!
The craziness of the craze
I was in the grocery store the other day, and there was this magazine advertising "paleo cleanse." I was there by myself, so I had nobody to rant to, but it just drives me crazy the way people buy into these dieting trends that are total crap. I think what happens is that we get these little bits of information that may be correct, but then we extrapolate or make inaccurate connections and all of a sudden you have these ideas that become accepted wisdom. The paleo diet or that "caveman diet" is a good example of this. I mean, come on! How long did cavemen live to – 20? And that's if they weren't eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger. And now you have all of these men who think they're going to be healthy living on bison and kale. I think people just get tired of hearing that the real way to be healthy is to make reasonable, healthy choices. We love a gimmick.
Stand by your hands
I really admire Anthony Bourdain because he has managed to stay true to himself and maintain a good deal of authenticity. That's not easy in this crazy world of celebrity chefs where everyone wants you to become a caricature, and have a catch phrase, but then they also want to be able to tell you how to act, how to speak. It's strange – it's almost like they want to sand away the rough edges, but then they also want you to have those edges. When I was "discovered" I had no experience or knowledge of the TV world. I think that was a big asset when I went into the audition. I didn't know what to do, so I just did my thing, blabbing and cooking. After I was hired the shakedown started. I remember one of the big things from the producers is that they wanted me to stop talking with my hands so much. I just couldn't do that. It's who I am, and how I express myself. It's important to try to preserve those things that make you you, which isn't easy when there are 10 people trying to mould you.
The couple that eats together…
My husband and I have a pact about eating together as often as possible. We both have crazy jobs and schedules – he's a real estate broker and I am constantly travelling for work. Still, we try to make sitting down for dinner together a priority. People eat standing, they eat in the car – that just drives me nuts! It doesn't have to be anything special. I will just roast a chicken and some veggies and it's perfect. Cooking for someone and eating together brings me a lot of happiness.
My secret kitchen weapon
I'm not really into gadgets in the kitchen, but I guess the one thing that I would say is essential to me (other than good knives, of course) is a mandoline. It is just so versatile and useful for slicing or shredding or julienning vegetables. I think it's a nice way to take it to the next level for home cooks who are really enthusiastic about cooking.
This interview has been condensed and edited by Courtney Shea.