Chef G. Garvin, Heating Things Up

The TV chef noted for the TV One cooking show Turn Up the Heat is out with a cookbook called Turn Up the Heat with G. Garvin.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

I'm Farai Chideya and this is NEWS & NOTES.

G. Garvin loves to turn up the heat, literally. His cooking show on TV One is a certified hit and getting hotter. Born Gerry Garvin, G's super simple style makes his down home cooking with international flare. Now he's collected favorite recipes into a new book titled after his show, “Turn up the Heat with G. Garvin.”

Recently, Garvin sat down at our NPR West studios. He told NPR's Tony Cox that he owes much of his success to the ladies in his life.

Mr. GERRY GARVIN (Chef): When grow up with, you know, four sisters, my mom and then there's two, three aunties and my grandma, all you do is cook or sew. And I'd say I want to eat. I'm not going to be wearing no dresses, so sewing was not, you know, it was a distant second.

TONY COX: Not in the cards.

Mr. GARVIN: Yeah, you know.

COX: I got you. Well, did your mother say to you, look. If you want to eat, you better learn how to feed yourself?

Mr. GARVIN: Not in so many words, but yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: You know, let me ask you, as a chef - because I've been curious about this - which is more important, do you think? To have the skill or the passion?

Mr. GARVIN: You know, that's probably one of the most intelligent culinary questions I've ever had. It depends on what you're in it for. I never got into this business to make money. So for me, it was about passion. But as I grew, I realized you really have to have the knowledge.

Now you got a lot of chefs who like the glamour. They like to stack it up and they'd like to - it's more about being able to say, yes, I'm a chef. But, you know, we come to a crossroad. As businessmen, we have to decide what's our financial demographic, how we're going to make sure they're satisfied. So you've got to have the passion, because it's a job that takes you 12 hours.

And then you got to know what you're doing. So it's a little bit of both.

COX: Well, from having watched your show, I get the impression - if I had to guess about your demographic for the people that you try to appeal to, and I'm one of those folks. Let me just say that.

Mr. GARVIN: Well, thank you.

COX: All right. That the thing - you try to make it simple and affordable.

Mr. GARVIN: Yes. Well, I wanted to make sure my menus were created for people like me. I'm just an average guy who loves to do food. So you can find these recipes. You can afford these recipes, and they're super simple.

COX: Here's another question for you G. Garvin: Is there a dish that anybody can make that is failsafe? And don't say rice. Cause I know it's not rice, because that's a hard thing for people to make…

Mr. GARVIN: And you're right, it's not failsafe. You know, there are a couple of dishes. I give you one: a boneless, skinless chicken breast. You can blacken it, sauté it. And you can then take papaya, a mango and a pineapple. Dice it up, make a nice little salsa with some red onions and do a mixed green salad with some balsamic vinaigrette. It's all good, and it's good for you.

COX: When you sauté something, does that mean two minutes, three minutes, five minutes?

Mr. GARVIN: Well, you know, what you do is when you get anybody - once you get the chicken breast, you just sauté it on either side. I always say three minutes either side, four minutes in the oven, anything will be done at 375. Three minutes either side, four minutes in the oven, it's all love.

COX: So now let me ask you this: You're a big guy - big brother, right? So, you know, I know that men are chefs and all. But has there ever been an issue for you at all in terms of, you know, the cooking? Or if you go to a store, you want to go to the, you know, the home department to check out, you know, pots and pans, stuff like that. You get what I'm saying?

Mr. GARVIN: Well, you know, I love what I do. I love to workout. I'm in a gym six days a week, and then seven days a week I'm always working out. And when I'm in the moment, I'm in the moment. When I'm in the store and I want to go check out sauté pans, that's what I do. Because, you know, I'm just that guy. Everybody can't do it. You got to love it. Very secure, very passionate about going in and getting my knives.

When men buy chef's knives, they're like women buying shoes.

COX: Really?

Mr. GARVIN: For real.

COX: Well, you know what? I met a chef from Las Vegas one time, and I didn't realize this - and I bet you probably have the same thing - he keeps his tools…

Mr. GARVIN: In the toolbox.

COX: In a toolbox.

Mr. GARVIN: Yes, that's what we do.

COX: I mean, one of those Sears-looking toolboxes.

Mr. GARVIN: Yeah. You know why? Because our knives are like our cars, man. We keep them clean. We keep them polished. We don't let people touch them. And toolboxes are a great way to protect them, so that's what we do.

COX: Interesting. Let's talk for a moment about healthy cooking. Because in the African-American community, there is no question that our diet is something that has been an issue for us because some of the things that we eat are really just not good for us, but we like them.

As a chef and someone who was on a black cable network and who presumably has a large African-American following, how do you mix and match getting people food that tastes good and yet is healthy for them at the same time?

Mr. GARVIN: One of the things that I like to do is say concentrate on what you buy, and then what you eat becomes a lot easier. You know, if you're going to do chicken and you typically would fry it, bake it. If you want to do pork chops and you typically smother them, just bake them in the oven.

There's always grilling. There's always baking. There's always steaming. And what you do is you season things the same way. Get into herbs, fresh herbs are always good - rosemary, garlic, thyme, sage, fresh basil. We don't use a lot of fresh herbs in the African-American community because, you know, we're used to seasoning salt and garlic salt.

But once you start to explore, educating your palate, you know, making sure your thought process is going the right way. Because it's all about how you do it and how you prepare it, which makes the difference for you.

COX: All right. A couple more things, and I'll let you get out of here. One has to do with the book, “Turn Up the Heat with G. Garvin.” It's cool, and it's just like your TV show, isn't it?

Mr. GARVIN: Yes it is.

COX: You know, it's simple. Easy to find. What was the concept behind the book?

Mr. GARVIN: You know, what we did? We took the first three seasons and we wanted to make sure that we evaluated all the recipes and we wanted to share them. I felt like one of the things that I wanted to do was say thank you to people. And, you know, quite honestly, man, if I didn't have to sell that book - if it wasn't for the world of business - I'd give them away. It's just the greatest thank you for me was to be able to write that and have people accept it and people love it.

And if you read the intro…

COX: I did.

Mr. GARVIN: You know, I wanted to mention people knew who I was. It's like if you're going to buy this, I want you to know me.

COX: Well, it really has some fantastic, simple things in it, as well as some more complicated kinds of things. And I know everybody asks you this question, but I'm going to ask it anyway: What's your favorite?

Mr. GARVIN: I knew it. I knew it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: What can I tell you? What can I tell you?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GARVIN: Oh, man, that's funny. I'd have to say my favorite in the book is probably the seafood bouillabaisse.

COX: The seafood - what the hell, I got to find that. I'm a…

Mr. GARVIN: It's this wonderful mix of seafood - shrimp, salmon, sea bass, scallops. It's unbelievable. Calamari, mussels, clams. It's bananas. I mean, it's…

COX: I know what you mean. There's no bananas in it.

Mr. GARVIN: Right. It's bananas, but there's no bananas.

COX: Here it is on page 71, seafood bouillabaisse. Makes six to eight servings. Whoa, look at that…

Mr. GARVIN: Now you see.

COX: Yeah. I see some shrimp, I see some…

Mr. GARVIN: Mussels.

COX: Mussels.

Mr. GARVIN: Yeah. Now imagine sitting that in the middle of the dining room table for a party of six and you just let people go at it?

COX: Now let me ask you this, because, you know, black folks are really into gumbo - a lot of us are. And so this would be something that would be akin to that, but it's very different, right?

Mr. GARVIN: Right. Well, this is typically a south of France dish, this bouillabaisse. Now the gumbo is great - the gumbo is going to be much darker, much heavier. But this is - I would say this is the first cousin. In my opinion, can't nobody see me with the gumbo.

COX: Nobody get you. You got that in here, too?

Mr. GARVIN: Oh, I think I do have a gumbo in there.

COX: Oh, you have a gumbo in there.

Mr. GARVIN: Yeah, I have a gumbo in there.

COX: This is absolutely wonderful. What's next for you?

Mr. GARVIN: Right now, I just want to make the show better, continue to grow. I'm working on myself a lot, trying to making sure I'm the best brother, friend, son, cousin, dad I can be and keep the show moving.

COX: Well, G. Garvin, I only have one more thing to say to you: What time is dinner, bro? I'm coming over tonight.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: I'll be right there.

Mr. GARVIN: I'm going to be in Oakland tonight. So you're going to be on the porch by yourself. You and the birds. Bird going to be looking out the window like, man, I'm hungry too…

COX: Oh man. G. Garvin, thank you very much. Much love to you, bro.

Mr. GARVIN: Thank you, man. Thanks for having me.

CHIDEYA: That was G. Garvin. You can catch the holiday edition of his show “Turn Up the Heat” on TV One. His new book recipes by the same name is in stores now. G. Garvin spoke with NPR's Tony Cox.

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