Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Behind the scenes with Joanne Weir

Joanne Weir on set
It may come as a surprise, but the best thing about being a food writer isn't the food, it's the people you meet. And Joanne Weir is certainly one of them. I met her years ago and we quickly became friends. I've given her advice on blogging and social media and she has always been there when I needed career counseling and the inside scoop on folks in our industry. She's a genuinely nice and generous person full of enthusiasm and desire to help others learn to cook and have fun. Which brings me to her new show-Joanne Weir's Cooking Confidence. It's a natural progression from her most recent shows where she takes individual students into the kitchen and in no time gets them cooking.

Chris Styler setting up
"You stayed longer than anyone!" said Joanne as I was leaving. Despite the cramped space, I had a hard time tearing myself away. I wanted to see her at work and to share some tidbits about her new show. First of all it's shot in her home kitchen which gets transformed into a television studio for filming. As executive producer this time around, Joanne has assembled a crack team including director Paul Swenson who has worked with Lidia Bastianich, Eric Ripert and Christopher Kimball, culinary producer Chris Styler who has worked with Julia Child, Jacques Pepin and Jamie Oliver and a cameraman she has worked with since day one, eleven years ago. The result is a smooth quality to the process where everyone seems to know exactly what they are doing and anticipate each other's needs.

Ahi burger

So what's different about the new show and what can you look forward to?

* A wider range of recipes
While Joanne is known for Mediterranean cuisine this time you'll get her take on all kinds of food including Indian, Asian and North African. Everyone on set was raving about her Moroccan chicken and sweet potato salad with pumpkin seeds. The day I was there she made an ahi burger with wasabi mayo and a crunchy slaw with grapefruit spiked with ginger and also an Italian pasta with tomato and cream and a salad made with ribbons of zucchini, summer squash and daikon radish. Look for ways to use more unusual ingredients too like farro and fregola.

*Great tips
I always learn something when I watch Joanne's shows. From little things like how to peel ginger with a spoon to making mayonnaise with nothing but mustard, an egg yolk and oil. I've always wondered what the heck to do with red pepper jelly and in this series she make corn muffins stuffed with a spoonful of it. And did you know if a label on produce begins with a "9" it means it's organic?

* Video app
This series will not only have an accompanying cookbook but also an app that has 20+ recipes and exclusive content. Look for it this Fall on iTunes.

* Confidence
You'll see it in the students and you'll see it in Joanne who literally seems more "at home" than ever before. I talked to her director about it and he said "She's evolved, you're seeing more of the real Joanne." Without missing a beat, she balances responding to student's questions with making sure every cooking step is explained. On the day I was there everything was being shot in real time, there was no swapping out of dishes. She's the quintessential cooking teacher on PBS and really what more could you ask for?