Photography: Courtesy the Food Network
Photography: Courtesy the Food Network

On any given day on the Food Network, you’ll find country music star Trisha Yearwood preparing the comfort food that she enjoys sharing with family and friends. Watch Trisha's Southern Kitchen as much for the love as for the food, because every dish is seasoned with it.

In Trisha Yearwood’s Southern kitchen, food isn’t just food. Food is love. Food is family. And that’s precisely the feel of her eponymous Food Network show. Just watching Yearwood make deviled eggs gives that good-times-around-the-kitchen-table homey feeling. As Yearwood says, “People come around, we have a lot of laughs, and some food gets made in the process.”

It almost makes us wonder what we enjoy more — her cooking or her singing. But why decide when you can dance around the kitchen with a big piece of her Key lime cake while playing “That’s What I Like About You” at full volume?

We caught up with Miss Yearwood in between concerts and Food Network production to talk about Southern cooking and her home kitchen(s).

Cowboys & Indians: How did your cooking show come about?
Trisha Yearwood: I had written two cookbooks with my mom and my sister, and they had both been very successful. I didn’t think I’d enjoy doing a cooking show because I didn’t see myself standing behind a kitchen counter telling people which ingredient to add when. Then I was approached by Ellen Rakieten (the executive producer of this show), who convinced me that the show could be whatever we needed it to be. And the idea of having friends and family in the kitchen with me sounded fun. I thought I’d give it a try. I’m having a blast!

C&I: Your show features the Southern cooking you grew up with in Georgia. How do you describe Southern cooking?
Yearwood: Tradition, family, comfort. Most of my recipes are passed down through generations, so they evoke wonderful family memories. So many of my recipes are ones that my mama made. She learned to make them from her mama. Over the years, I have altered some of those recipes to fit my tastes, and I have lightened up some of the heavier recipes to be healthier for my family. Garth has inspired me to try new ingredients in some of these tried-and-true recipes, and he’s usually got really good instincts. He cooks, too, and he’s the guy who will totally make up a recipe. I’m more likely to adapt something that already exists.

C&I: What is your own version of Southern cooking?
Yearwood: In the books, the recipes are very true to the Southern traditions I grew up with. I have given tips that I use in everyday life to make some of these dishes lighter and healthier for the way most of us live these days. Everything in moderation, including moderation!

C&I: Southern cooking sometimes takes criticism for being unhealthy. Besides lightening up some of the heavier fare, how are you addressing those challenges in the way you’re presenting Southern cooking on your show?
Yearwood: I agree wholeheartedly that traditional Southern cooking isn’t the healthiest way to eat. It’s important to tell people that eating this food isn’t a daily way of life. (Everybody already knows that, right?) But when you want that comfort food fix, this is how you do it. We should all try to eat healthy most of the time and indulge occasionally so we don’t have to feel guilty about it. There are ways to lighten up some of the heavier recipes, and then there are some, like crockpot mac and cheese, that are just rich and decadent, and you should enjoy it when you have it, then maybe eat a grape the next day and you’re balanced out!

C&I: How did you get into cooking?
Yearwood: I really didn’t learn to cook until I left home for college, and I missed my mama’s cooking so much. When I graduated college and got my own apartment, I started experimenting with Mama’s easier recipes like potato salad. The first time I made something of hers and it tasted just like home, I cried.

C&I: Take us through a “normal” day of filming.
Yearwood: A regular day of filming starts about 8 a.m. and ends about 8 p.m. I usually start off doing a sit-down interview that sort of takes the viewer through what the episode is about. These interview pieces will be cut into the show all throughout. There are usually four “acts” per episode, and I usually cook three to five dishes, depending on how difficult they are and/or how much time they take to prepare. I almost always have at least one guest, so we figure out how we’re going to choreograph each act, rehearse it, and then shoot each act. I have a culinary team who makes sure we have all the ingredients we need, and for time’s sake, we can swap out dishes in progress with finished dishes. I wish I had those gals at home to help me!

C&I: The first season, the show was shot in a home kitchen in Nashville. You switched locations for the second season ...
Yearwood: TV kitchens have cooktops built into the islands for better camera angles and shots. My kitchen in Nashville doesn’t have that, so we found a house nearby that worked better. This season, we’re shooting in Oklahoma. Again, no cooktop on my island! If I ever build a house, I’ll make sure it looks good for TV.

C&I: You have a lot of geography in your personal kitchens: the one you grew up with in Georgia, the one in your home in Nashville, and the one at the ranch you share with Garth in Oklahoma. What are your kitchens like?
Yearwood: The kitchen was always the place to be growing up. Everybody hung out in our little kitchen in Georgia, just to help cook, tell stories, and have fun. I obviously love to cook, and my friends and family always love to chip in and help. When we built our house in Oklahoma, we really focused on making the kitchen a fun place to hang out. It’s open and spills into the living room. If you’re cooking dinner, you can still watch the football game on TV. Now that’s a kitchen!

The kitchen has always been the place where everybody gathers. Our lives are really informal, so when our friends come over, we usually sit around the kitchen table and hang out. We hardly ever make it to the soft couches in the living room. If I’m cooking, everybody ends up sitting on the stools at the island and chatting, or grabbing a cutting board and digging in to help. It’s the hub of our home.

C&I: Meals and memories — the two are entwined for you and I’m sure for fans of your show. Is there a particular family-meal memory you hold in your heart around the holidays?
Yearwood: Every Christmas, our mama would make caramel candy. We would cut it into small squares and wrap it in wax paper to give as gifts. I have so many memories of sitting around the table with my mama and my sister, cutting caramel candy squares, laughing, telling stories, and eating more candy than we wrapped.

C&I: What’s your idea of the ultimate kitchen?
Yearwood: Lots of counter space for prep, and plenty of room for folks to help out. My next dream kitchen has white cabinets, a Tiffany blue island with a white marbled countertop, stainless appliances, and a warming drawer.

C&I: What can’t you live without in the kitchen?
Yearwood: My favorite kitchen appliance is my KitchenAid mixer. I use it a lot for mixing cake batters, but I also use it for savory things, like mixing together sausage, cheese, and self-rising flour for my sausage hors d’oeuvres. It makes mixing fast and easy.

C&I: As much as you love being in the kitchen, we’re guessing you’re the chief cook at home. Does Garth cook?
Yearwood: Garth’s a really good cook, and he’s not afraid to try anything. I do love to cook, and I would say I do the majority of the cooking, but he’s definitely got his specialties. He makes a great taco pizza that he made up, and he makes a mean pasta salad.

C&I: Back to your own Southern cooking — any particular direction you’d like to take your show in the future?
Yearwood: I’m always trying to figure out how to make these comfort foods healthy without sacrificing flavor. I try to include those tips on the show when I develop them. I’d love to see more of that, and I’d love to take the show more in that direction as I figure it out for myself.

From the December 2012 issue.

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