7 Questions with Caitlin Zaino

Caitlin Zaino The Urban Grocer

As Food Network ventures further and further into the realm of reality TV and away from its foodie origins the folks at Scripps are making sure they do not alienate their original fan base.  The Cooking Channel was created so that those of us who watch food TV for the food still have TV to watch.  That is not a backhanded compliment, Food Network is insanely successful with the format they have now and there is no shame in following that path.  I am genuinely thankful that they gave us both networks.

For the Foodie, the Cooking Channel is like the hip new coffee house in town.  All the cool people hang there; it’s the to place to see and be seen.  Some of my favorite food shows are found there like Everyday Exotic, Chuck’s Day Off and Unique Eats.  These shows are geared towards the hardcore foodie.

Vying to enter that lofty place is The Urban Grocer.  According to the Cooking Channel it is a, “tour of the best, freshest urban food spots.”  Host Caitlin Zaino, “is on a quest to discover the most innovative, cutting edge foodstuffs.”  That’s a tagline I can get on board with.

The Urban Grocer is based on Zaino’s highly successful food site of the same name.  The site states, “Founding Editor, Caitlin Zaino, manages the Urban Grocer with immense support from a growing team of contributors, designers, digital strategy kids, interns, and finance brains. Together, this dedicated bunch is working zealously to develop and expand The Urban Grocer publication and brand. In March 2011, The Urban Grocer launched it’s own Supper Club, designing and hosting closed-door and pop-up dining events.”

I personally love that both networks are starting to realize that their next generation of Food TV stars are already honing their craft on the Internet.  Aida Mollenkamp, Aarti Sequeira, Ree Drummand and now Zaino have earned their stripes blogging about food before leaping into our DVRs.  This is a trend that I would love to see continue.  Seriously.

This weekend Cooking Channel premieres The Urban Grocer but first Caitlin Zaino answers 7 Questions.

1.    How old were you when you first started to cook?

Caitlin Zaino The Urban GrocerAbout 5 years old. I learned how to cook – like so many – in the kitchen with my Italian grandmother and I was hooked from the moment I began. I remember the first thing I made too: stone soup. By the time I was 7, I had created a pretend restaurant in my parents home called “The Little Blue House,” and each Sunday morning I would cook huge brunches for my family. I did that for way too many years. Once I stepped into the kitchen, I never left. And I’ve been enthusiastically cooking and chasing food since.

2. When did you decide that you could make food your career?

I always knew it was my passion – obsession even – but was told by a lot of “older” people that it was only a hobby. So while also keeping food in my life, I went on to get my undergrad and grad degrees in political science and the social sciences. I started working at the UN about 6 years ago and realized, not too far into it, that I was spectacularly bored and the only place I was ever truly happy was in the kitchen or talking about food or writing about food. I had worked on the line, hosted a radio show on food, and freelanced as a food writer for years. About 2 years ago, I decided to take the plunge and do it full time. Now, in addition to hosting and producing The Urban Grocer television special, I’m also the Founding Editor of my online magazine of the same name (The Urban Grocer) and I am conceptualizing, managing, and cooking supper club events too.

3. Which chefs have influenced you the most?

As cliché as it is, Julia Child has always been a massive inspiration. Less for her French cooking, then her place as a strong woman in the kitchen and everything she’s given to the gastronomic world. I also am mad for Jamie Oliver. I remember seeing him on TV as a kid and thinking, if this guy can be so cool and cook, then I want to be just like him. I’ve always admired his career and still take massive inspiration from what he’s done and how he’s evolved.

4. If you hadn’t followed this career path, what other career could you see yourself in?

Well, I’ve tried out what I thought I could be doing – i.e. working in the world of international relations. I have been a big traveler my whole life and I love learning about new cultures so the international world really struck a cord with me. And if I weren’t so adverse to turbulence, I would have loved to be a flight attendant too and travel the globe!

5. What is The Urban Grocer all about?

The Urban Grocer is all about featuring the most cutting-edge, innovative foodstuffs from around the world’s hippest cities. It’s about showcasing the amazing young talent and pioneering industry players – from chefs to sommeliers to food writers – who are creating new waves of spectacular things in food from restaurants to boutiques to bars, bottles, designs, art, photography – basically, any one that is doing something really exciting and fresh in food! And it’s all tailored towards a young urban audience that is into exploring the many facets of gastronomy and creativity.

6. What led you to start The Urban Grocer Supper Club?

I had read a lot about pop-ups and supper clubs and always found it fascinating, but when we were filming The Urban Grocer television special in Buenos Aires, we went to this one closed-door restaurant called Casa Felix. It is run inside the home of a young, slow-food loving chef named Diego Felix. Spending the day with him, in his kitchen, getting a sense of his passion and love for food, and seeing that he did it all within his home and not within a formal restaurant setting, made me feel like I could do that too. I realized, I didn’t have to work on the line to cook for people or to conceptualize dinners where music, art, and design would be brought into the mix. I guess, it’s sort of like “The Little Blue House,” 2.0.

7. What’s next for Caitlin Zaino?

What I’m most looking forward to is the airing of The Urban Grocer on the Cooking Channel (premiering April 10 at 8pm ET/ 5pm PT if you’re asking!!). I can’t wait to share all of the amazing experiences we had in Buenos Aires with the Cooking Channel audience. I’d love to be able to do more of that and to explore different cities around the world, showcasing the incredible young talent that is driving a new culture of cooking. And I’ll continue to cook for my Supper Club, while also pushing forward the website. I’d love to see that grow more as well and to delve into different forms of online and offline media. So, in brief, a lot!!

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less
Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
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2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
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