7 Questions with Graham Kerr
7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know better.
In the tabernacle of celebrity chefs three names stand head and shoulders above the rest: James Beard, Julia Child and Graham Kerr. Beard was the original cheflebrity having published his first cookbook (Hors D’oeuvre And Canapes available at amazon.com) in 1940 and he was pioneering food television as early as 1946. Child’s journey from house wife to household name has been well documented, most recently in the hit film Julie & Julia. Sadly Chef Beard left us in 1985 and Julia back in 2004 but Chef Kerr, he’s still going strong.
Graham Kerr’s star began to rise in the late 1950′s when he was named chief chef catering adviser for the Royal New Zealand Air Force. That coveted post led to a series of recipes for radio, magazines and, ultimately, a book, Entertaining with Kerr. Eventually Kerr caught the eye of NZBC producer Shirley Maddock who put the jovial Scot on New Zealand television in 1960.
Several years on TV down under soon brought the New World knocking. CJOH-TV wanted Kerr to star in a new show to be shot in Ontario. To make things better Kerr’s beloved wife Treena would produce the show inspired by a book Graham had co-written with Len Evans entitled The Galloping Gourmets. For making the move to Canadian TV Kerr would be paid the incredible salary of two million dollars. That’s unheard of today much less in 1967.
Things were going well for Graham and Treena Kerr. The Galloping Gourmet was a hit easily justifying the big pay day. Even though some (mainly doctors and nutritionists) were critical of Kerr’s unabashed use of butter, cream and rich, fatty cuts of meat the North American viewers were in love Kerr’s classic French food and gregarious personality. Graham was a star – bigger than Beard, bigger than Julia. Things were good. But like everyone that has ever lived the Kerrs were on that roller coaster called life.
In April of 1971 the good times came to a screeching halt. Graham and Treena were passengers in an RV that was rear-ended by a speeding produce truck. The world’s most famous chef was paralyzed for a short while. It would be three years before he returned to television and when he did it was with a different purpose.
Kerr was still cooking the rich foods that had made him famous but his close call had led him to Jesus. It was not long before his faith would collide with the often anti-freedom of religion folks that permeate the entertainment industry. He had decided to include a Bible passage in the closing credits of his new show, Take Kerr. The media was not happy and as a result the show only lasted one year but new shows and opportunities would make him the chef of the 1970′s.
When the 80′s began Kerr was again on top of the world and in high demand. However, in 1986 something happened that would forever alter his gallop. His wife and partner, Treena suffered a stroke which was soon followed by a severe heart attack. His high fat, high calorie food was killing her. Now in his fifties, Graham Kerr completely reinvented his cooking style.
This is where I enter the story, if only from the fringe. I was a struggling musician in Nashville who had yet to understand that this fascination with food could eventually pay my bills in ways that music never had. Working nights as a line cook at a Tex-Mex restaurant I often awoke to the cooking shows on day time cable TV. That included the Graham Kerr Show. The show revolved around his “Minimax” approach to cooking; it was revolutionary.
By this time there had been cooking shows about healthy cooking and there had been shows about food that tasted good. But this was the first show about healthy food that was genuinely tasty. “Minimax” meant that the recipes minimized fat and cholesterol while maximizing aroma, color, texture and taste. No show before or since has influenced my cooking more than the Graham Kerr Show. I learned tricks that have helped me my entire career.
Gone was the butter and in it’s stead an ingenious oil blend – 15 parts extra virgin olive oil and 1 part toasted sesame oil – the result was a liquid very similar in flavor to clarified butter. Also missing was all that heavy cream; it was replaced with evaporated fat free milk. Brilliant! The argument can be made that Kerr was responsible for salsa supplanting ketchup as America’s most popular condiment once he explained about its many healthy attributes while remaining exceptionally flavorful. He also extolled the important role fresh herbs and produce play in making food delicious without adding unnecessary calories.
After dozens of cookbooks and hundreds of hours of television Chef Graham Kerr still found the time to answer 7 Questions.
1. How many countries have you called home?
United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, USA (5)
2. From Entertaining with Kerr to Gathering Place you’ve done some 450 hours of food television; is there one series that you think best captures who you really are?
Gathering Place, an in depth search for lifestyle solutions in my life.
3. Which chefs have influenced you the most?
Andre Simon (Food & Wine Society Founder)
Maitre Chef des Cuisines Silvano Trompetto (Savoy, London)
Master Chef Karl Guggenmoss, Culinary Dean, Johnson & Wales University
4. Who was better in a street fight, Julia Child or James Beard?
5. What do you think of this new era of celebrity chefs with their Beatlesque followings?
A rather crowded wave of surfers without a clear line to the beach and diminishing waves.
6. The new Cooking Channel is showing The Galloping Gourmet; do you ever watch it?
I must admit that we no longer have TV. I’ve only ever seen 4 episodes. When you watch what you do you can become an edited person.
7. What’s next for Chef Graham Kerr?
A daily web blog on seven major changes we must make by 2020 on www.grahamkerr.com, starting November.
For those of you who have never scene Chef Graham in action enjoy this classic clip from the Galloping Gourmet.