Chef Offers Tips On Holiday Cuisine

Celelbrity chef Gerry Garvin, author of Dining In and host of the TV One cooking show Turn Up the Heat, says holiday dinners are a great time to enjoy delicious food and reconnect with family. He suggests some of his favorite dishes and reflects on how he became a culinary master.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is Tell Me More from NPR News. What's a holiday without good food and something nice to sip on? So we're talking about holiday cooking. In a minute, we're also going to tell you how to make a traditional holiday beverage - mulled wine. So if you've got folks coming over later, you have a nice bottle of red wine sitting around there and some spices, you might want to listen up.

But first, food. And for that we have a very special guest, celebrity cook and author Gerry Garvin. Now, if you don't recognize that name, that's OK because he's known to the world as G. Garvin. He joins us now from the studios of NPR West. Hello, Chef. Merry Christmas.

Mr. GERRY GARVIN (Author,"Turn Up the Heat", "Dining Out"; Host, "Turn Up the Heat", TV One): Merry Christmas, how are you? And I love the way you broke the G. Garvin thing down. It is so true.

MARTIN: Yeah, G. Well, you - that's who you are, you're G. Now, the name of your first book and the title of your TV show is "Turn up the Heat." So how do we turn up the heat and still not break the budget? Because as you know, of course, a lot of us are counting our pennies right now, so what's the advice for keeping it special without breaking the bank?

Mr. GARVIN: The easiest thing and oldest tricks for keeping your budget is your shopping list. I think most people go to the store without a shopping list because everyone wants to be so quote unquote "busy." But when you prepare your list, you know what you want, you know what need, you stick to those items, and you don't venture down aisles and randomly pick up things that you go, oh, I think I'm going to get this, and ooh, I'm going to try this. That's when the budgets get out of control.

But if you have a list and you go in and you get those items, you'd be amazed as to how much money you will actually save. And then second to that, it's always great - and I feel more fun, even - to have people bring things. It's not as if it would be a potluck, but you know, people enjoy bringing their dishes and kind of being involved in dinner. So there's a couple of ways right there, I think.

MARTIN: In your third book, "Dining In," just released this year - now that's timely because frankly, one of the ways I think a lot of folks are looking to save is by eating out less and dining in more. And certainly during the holidays a lot of people like to stick close to home. So what's the secret of dining in and keeping that still feeling special?

Mr. GARVIN: I feel like when I did "Dining In," it gets you back to the dinner table. You get to reintroduce your family to your family, and you know what's going on in people's lives. Because when I was growing up, we all sat around and we had dinner and we talked. Like the movive "Soul Food." That allows us to live in a preventive society so that you know what's going on. And also, it's just a fun, fun thing to do, sitting around and talking to the people you love and catching up with your family. So that's why I did "Dining In."

MARTIN: I mean, obviously, one of the reasons people say they don't dine in more is that it takes a lot of time and that they feel like they're pressed for time and that the results aren't going to be great, and they don't want to eat the same things over and over again. They find themselves falling into a pattern. So what's your thought about how you can make dining in feel special?

Mr. GARVIN: Well, that's another good thing about the book. "Dining In" is the title and the philosophy behind the book, but the recipes are actually really, really good. So when you get the book, there are things that you can enjoy - the original name for this book was called Easy Gourment because I wanted people to have gourmet meal that they had out at restaurants at home, but we changed it to "Dining In."

So if you look at the book, some of the recipes are really, really good, like the Marilyn Crab and Schwep with Avocado(ph) - great dish you can do at home. I've got a whole fillet mignon stuffed with roasted garlic and rosemary, vealchops, lambchops. I've got a pasta in this book which is Pappardelle pasta with braised short rib ragu and crushed plum tomatoes. How can you go wrong?

MARTIN: Why are you trying to hurt people like that? It's just - we're hungry now.

Mr. GARVIN: Man, I need - I need that. That's my dessert(ph) dish.

MARTIN: OK. But you know, you're throwing down the crab meat, the shrimp, the avocado. I'm sorry, those are not free.

Mr. GARVIN: But you know what? Let me tell you something. This time of year is when you just say, it's OK. You know, we all work hard. Even when the economy is a mess, you still got to live. For moments like this it's important. You know, if you're buying for 15, do what we used to do back in the day. Chip in. You ever heard of that?

MARTIN: Right. Chip in.

Mr. GARVIN: Let me - let me run this by you. Check out the veal chop, wrapped in (unintelligible) with sauteed figs and spinach.

MARTIN: You know what - I'm sorry, the fish tacos are talking to me.

Mr. GARVIN: Fish tacos screaming your name. Screaming your name.

MARTIN: They're talking. How did you get interested in cooking, for people who don't know the story?

Mr. GARVIN: My mother, she worked in a place in Atlanta called the Jewish Home, and you know, she was a cook. She worked in the kitchen, and that was a retirement home, and I would go there from the age of seven, eight, nine years old. Hang out with mom in the summer and go after school and I knew all the people that worked in the kitchen. And my nickname, which they still call me, is egg. You know, E-G-G.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Yeah, I know. Believe it.

MARTIN: Why?

Mr. GARVIN: You know, everyone thinks, oh, it's because you were an egg head. No. It's just that my grandfather used to call me that, and it just kind of stuck. And still to this day, my friends will still call and say, hey, what's up, egg? So in that kitchen, I used to sweep, and she would have me my mop and peel potatoes and help her mix the rice and stuff like that.

So when I got to, you know, 13, we were allowed to work in Atlanta for four hours only because it was like an after-school program, and I started working in restaurants. And when I started to work in restaurants at that age, I never looked back. And at that time, it was really only because it would give me extra cash. But when I got to the Ritz-Carlton, it was a life changer. I realized that, you know, I'll be making some other pork chops and baked chicken and catfish and all of these things. And I got to a place where they were doing, you know, seared foie gras and making homemade pastas and raviolis and duck and confit and all of these great things, you know what I mean?

MARTIN: Did any of your boys ever make fun of you for being interested in cooking?

Mr. GARVIN: All the time. All the time. I mean, right now, I'm wearing my burgundy clogs, which is what I've worn since I was about 15 years old. I wear - I've been wearing clogs my whole life. And you know, now they're more popular because a lot of the nurses and doctors wear them. But you're talking in the early '70s? Oh, yeah, I got much grief.

MARTIN: What did you say? How did you respond to it?

Mr. GARVIN: Ha-ha. He-ya. He-ya. You know?

MARTIN: No, I don't know. What did you do, throw hands? What?

Mr. GARVIN: Ooh, fist to cuff(ph). No. No, I wouldn't say that. You know, you just - I'm strong, secure, and you know, I always had a purpose. I always - it was a part of who I am. And I'm not the kind of guy who someone's going to walk in and go, hey, those shoes look funny on you. You know, it was a part of the culinary world, and I had so much respect for the culinary world.

And what's odd about it is it wasn't even the clogs that got the most attention. It was the neck scarf. You know, you had the tied scarf and folded and it looked like a little bowtie that was too small, so - but it was a part of it. And today, being, you know, at the top of my game in the culinary world, having the two TV shows and doing all that I'm doing, now it's like - oh, yeah, yeah, I see it. But it took 20 years, but you know...

MARTIN: It is interesting, though, that - when you were coming on, cooking - it was always a respected profession but there was not - you were not a celebrity. You were not - and now - do you think it's kind of interesting now that you're a celebrity?

Mr. GARVIN: You know what's funny? I actually hate that word, that celeb word, celebrity. I feel like my platform has gone to TV, so a lot more people know me. I was actually at - I do my annual party for one of my great, great friends and clients, the Hughleys(ph), and I was talking with D.L.(ph). He said, you know, man, we've been friends a long time but I'm just so proud of you because every time I talk to somebody, they say wow, that G. Garvin man is really doing it. And it's funny because I don't feel like a celebrity. I feel like after 22 years in this business I'm sort of getting what I deserve, but I'm enjoying it and I respect it. I'm happy about being more popular but I don't know that I'm a celebrity yet...TEXT: MARTIN: Well, what's next for you?

Mr. GARVIN: You know, a culinary boot camp. It's going to open in Atlanta. It's a culinary boot camp called it the G. Garvin Culinary Boot Camp, and it's for kids from 17 to 20. All things food. Learning how to do food science, recipe and development, ownership, entrepreneurship. I've got guest speakers coming out. They're going to do cooking demos. They're going to go to restaurants. They're going to have tours. It is my quote unquote "ghetto culinary school." And we're going to be providing scholarships, you know, for kids who just can't afford to go to culinary school and they really want to be a part of something other than rap music, baseball and basketball.

MARTIN: Chef G. Garvin, and he does not like this term but he is a celebrity chef, a restauranteur, a TV host. His latest book is called "Dining In," and he was kind enough to join us from NPR West. Chef, thank you so much for joining us, and Merry Christmas.

Mr. GARVIN: Thank you so very much and Merry Christmas, and I enjoyed D.C. Next time I'm in that area I'll come by and holler at you.

MARTIN: All right, holler.

Mr. GARVIN: OK.

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