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Q & A With Katie Lee Joel

Conscious consumption: It’s understanding how food from the
earth becomes the meal on your plate, and it’s also the guiding culinary
principle of Katie Lee Joel, occasional television star, wife of musician Billy
Joel, and author of the upcoming cookbook, The
Comfort Table

Before she was old enough to read a recipe, Joel was busy
helping her grandmother turn fresh vegetables and meat from their West Virginia
farm into the dishes that brought her family together every evening. Many of
the rib-sticking recipes featured in The
Comfort Table
come straight from her grandmother’s kitchen, but they also
reflect Joel’s personal credo of wholesome, organic ingredients and healthy

A graduate of Miami University of Ohio in English and journalism,
Joel has brought her culinary talents to Bravo’s
Top Chef, a column in Hampton’s Magazine,
a special correspondent position for Extra,
and a seat on the judges’ panel of Iron
Chef America

Status: Single/Married/Divorced

What did you want to be when you
grew up?

Wonder Woman

What was your first job in food?
When I was 15, my first job was
working in an Italian ice stand.  I think I ate more than I sold.

What was your experience like
hosting Top Chef?

Hosting Top Chef was a truly
phenomenal experience. It was amazing to be surrounded by such talented chefs
who share my love of food. Working with co-hosts such as
Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons was something I will
always cherish.

Would you say your time spent
traveling and studying in 
have influenced your cooking style?

My time as a college student in Florence definitely
influenced my cooking style.  The Italians always use the freshest
seasonal ingredients and keep the preparations simple.

Tell us about the cookbook you’re
working on right now…

My cookbook is called The Comfort
Table (Simon and Schuster, 2008) and is filled with my favorite comfort food
recipes.  I’m from
West Virginia,
so there is a Southern influence.  I like to use ingredients that are
organic and local whenever possible, because in order for me to be truly
comforted by the food that I eat, I need to know where it comes from and how it
was raised.

You cook as well as bake, not
always par for the course as a chef.  How would you say the two skills

While I do love to bake, I have
to be in the mood.  Baking takes a lot of patience, so I only like to make
pies and cakes on days that I have plenty of time. 

Where do you get the inspiration
for most of your recipes?

My inspiration comes mostly
from my grandmother and is based on the season.  I love to go to the
farmer’s market and buy a bunch of vegetables and then come home and figure out
what to do with them. 

Much of your cooking tends to
reflect a southern bent…do explain?

I grew up in West Virginia and I was practically raised
in my grandmother’s kitchen.  My mom worked, so my grandmother served as
my babysitter.  My grandfather had an incredible vegetable garden, his
cousin raised pigs, and another cousin raised cattle.  My grandmother
would let me help in the kitchen, pulling a stool up to the counter for me to
stand on, and I learned to make all of her recipes.  We were of modest
means, but we ate like kings.

What’s your favorite recipe in
your imminent cookbook?

That’s a tough question!
After working so hard on this book, I have an attachment to each of them.
I guess I’d say the chicken and dumplings.  It has always been a favorite
of mine, and now that the weather has started to cool, they are perfect for a
Sunday dinner.

What’s your least favorite recipe
(and yes, you must pick one)?

This is even harder than the
previous question…. If I must
choose, it is my fruit salad with custard sauce and only because I find it time
consuming to chop all of the fruit.

Is there anything you simply
can’t cook?

Hmmm… I’ve had my share of
disasters here and there, but when I mess up, I always go back and try again
until it works.  I don’t like the feeling of defeat. 

What is your junk food of choice?
I have two vices… the first is
Graeter’s ice cream.  It’s from Cincinnati, Ohio and I order it online.
I’m totally obsessed with the mint chocolate chip…I swear I can’t sleep if
it’s in my freezer.  My second is popcorn with butter and a lot of salt…
I can’t eat it fast enough.

What’s your favorite restaurant
in NYC?

I love Ballato’s (55 E.
Houston)… It is so under the radar and the food is phenomenal.  The
chef/owner is named Emilio and he takes so much pride in his food.  All of
the pastas are homemade and nobody makes a better spaghetti pomodoro than
Emilio.  Since he was previously a pastry chef, dessert is a must…I have
a sweet tooth, so I usually order two…the cannoli and the tiramisu.

What culinary trend do you most

I am so happy to see more and
more restaurants using ingredients from local farms.  It is so important
on so many different levels… not only is it healthier and better for the
environment, but it’s also better to economically support our local farmers.

What trend do you wish would die

I am absolutely sick of truffle

What’s next on the horizon for
you?  Any new ventures or restaurants in the works?  Spill the beans…

I used to always say that I’d never open a restaurant… I’m not a masochist… but lately I’ve started thinking about it… I guess I should never say never!

Readers can sample Katie Lee Joel’s dessert at Sweet, SOBE and Food Network’s first New  York’s first dessert festival in New York City.  Sweet takes place on Friday,  November 16th at The Waterfront.  For more information or to buy tickets, please call (866)969-2933 or click on SWEET.

Until we eat again,
Restaurant Girl
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