We sat down with renowned cookbook author and chef Chris Styler to talk about his new book The Golden Girls Cookbook, the different culinary styles of Blanche, Rose, Dorothy, and Sophia, and why you should actually make Rose’s ‘surprise!’ herring pie:
I'd love to know where the book idea came about and your culinary journey that is concurrent with your Golden Girls fandom.
Way back, when I was a chef for restaurants and catering businesses, I knew someone who knew an editor. I said, 'Hey, I have this great idea for a cookbook, all Italian first courses.' They said, 'Oh, great. Here's a contract, go.' (Things were different back then.) So I met publishing people, I did work with Lidia Bastianich on a cookbook and her first PBS show, and about 10 years back, I did a Desperate Housewives cookbook.
A little over two years ago, I was in Napa, working on video production with Thomas Keller. And a friend of mine said, 'I got this call from folks who want to know if you'd like to do a Golden Girls cookbook. My jaw dropped. She said, ‘I was thinking about doing it, but I don't know if it's for me. I don't know a lot about them.’ I said, first of all, you know, shame. And second, yes, please give me the number. So, I’m working with Thomas Keller in Napa -- and all I can think of for the rest of the trip was, ‘okay, now for Dorothy's chapter…’
About the same time I got into the cookbook part of my career, I met my now partner of 25 years. And I was always a fan, but compared to him, forget it. We had a project about seven years ago to watch from the pilot through to the finale in order, which we had never done. So I have to say that Joe gets a lot of the credit for me being able to outline the whole Golden Girls Cookbook off top of my head in, you know, an hour and a half.
ON RECIPE CREATION
Do you do all of your cooking and creating the recipes there in your home, or do you have a test kitchen?
Everything out of my home kitchen. The professional side of my recipe development is done in professional kitchens, but when I do a cookbook, it's at home. That's where the audience is going to cook! People don't have a zillion pots and pans. So I'm approximating what the readers are experiencing themselves.
I assume Joe gets to enjoy all of the experiments, too?
We have so many friends who are serious Golden Girls fans, I said, ‘I'm working on Sophia's chapter, and we're making Sunday gravy. Do you think I can get 12 of you over?’, ‘I have another cheesecake -- wanna help us out?’ It was so fun because they were excited, and I got to bounce ideas off of people and see what they thought would fly. And maybe what wouldn't.
ON CULINARY STYLE
How do each of the girls connect to the particular culinary style that you chose for them?
Sophia is so easy. I can see her now with those red pots, taking the zabaglione out of the oven -- I picture her very much at home in the kitchen. For all of the girls, some are things that she actually made on the show, some were the imaginings of what they would cook. Because, of course, you never see Blanche cooking. And even the closest Dorothy ever came to cooking is when she’s standing near the grill as the bird man drops with his parachute on the lanai, or when Blanche is on a diet and Dorothy is taking cookies off a cookie sheet with a spatula. I mean, that's as close as you get.
Who needs to cook when you have Sophia for a mother?
Truly, why would you? My approach to Dorothy was pragmatic. You know, if she's making a sauteed chicken breast dish, she would have all of her ingredients lined up ready to start cooking. It's easy to see her packing her own lunch in a brown paper bag. Each of the girls has what I call the ‘centerfold’ -- a big double page spread. Dorothy's is what to make to set yourself up for a week of lunch.
Dorothy meal prep.
Exactly. For Blanche, I pulled a few things from restaurant scenes as well as from her Southern roots. So there's Southern fried chicken as well as Southern not-fried chicken, because she's always on a diet. Rose, of course, has some of her crazy ideas. Like lutefisk puffs? I wrote a little blurb that basically says, ‘Here’s what they’d taste like. You probably don't want to try them.’ But some of her crazy ideas -- like the Lindstrom Surprise pie ('The surprise is you think it's pie – like apple – but when you bite into it, it's herring!') That actually is great. It took me a few tries. I started out with equal parts of herring and potato and -- no, too much herring. So I got down to four little herring and cream sauce filets, layered with onions and potato, and it is pretty delicious.
How many cheesecakes did you actually experiment with before you landed on double fudge? Is that the one in the book?
Yes, that's one of them.
Oh, there's multiple? That feels appropriate.
Yes, between each chapter there's a cheesecake. I imagined they’d serve mini cheesecakes at Mr. Haha's Hot Dog Hacienda, I did the straight-up New York cheesecake with the graham cracker crumb, and for another one, I did a cherry cheesecake ice cream, where graham cracker buttery crumbs and cherries are folded into an ice cream base that tastes like cheesecake.
ON CULTURAL CUISINE
Italian cuisine like Sophia’s has always been very accessible to Americans. But it seems like there are cuisines -- like Korean or Persian -- that we’re just starting to embrace. That's something that this show doesn't touch on a whole lot -- but there is that scene where Sophia's with the Japanese gardener, and she's grossed out by sushi. What are your thoughts on that?
Yeah, I thought about that. And to me, she's going 'ugh', but the fact is she interacted with a different culture. And that's the heart of The Golden Girls -- there were all different kinds of people in the show, and I like to imagine that that interaction of different cultures led to an exchange of food ideas.
What were some of the trickiest recipes in terms of experimentation?
I would say the knish, only because I have no knish experience. I did everything from scratch to be authentic to the pizza and knish stand on the boardwalk on Coney Island. Back then they weren't buying prepackaged blocks of knish dough. I wanted to make the knish dough a few times, so that I could get familiar enough with it to explain it easily. I worked very hard on it. When I turned in the manuscript, I got a call from my editor who said, ‘you gotta cut a few of these for length,’ and they mentioned the knish. I said, ‘Oh, no, no, the knish is staying. I know, it looks daunting, but if you read through it, it's very simple!’
Where do you think people should start in the cookbook?
I love the super simple recipes. I did a beautiful fennel salad with arugula, red onion, and feta cheese in Dorothy's chapter. I imagined she would be more of a healthful eater. There are simple recipes like that in every chapter. There's some fun drink recipes, like St. Olaf antifreeze, which is a hot chocolate, and if you'd like you can put a big scoop of peanut butter in the mug.
If you’re looking for a simple meal, there's a couple of quick chicken sautees -- one in Dorothy's chapter, one in Sophia's chapter -- and Swedish meatballs in guess who's. Blanche has some simple ones, too. We all know Blanche's approach to salad dressings is super light -- 'if you ran it under the faucet it would have more flavor.' So there’s a better way to get a lower calorie dressing -- if you have citrus, you don't need as much olive oil. It’s a lighter dressing that tastes fantastic.
Do you have standout favorite episodes, or a favorite Golden Girl?
There are so many. There are so many moments where Joe and I will be in the middle of doing something and he or I will have the perfect banter response from the show. Some of the episodes that come to mind are when Clay comes out, when he comes back with Doug, Freida Claxton -- those are just fantastic. And I think I identify most with Dorothy because of both her pragmatic side and her goofy side -- I’m thinking of the ‘Oh, God, I am crazy nuts about this guy!’ scene. Sophia's wisecracks are the best, as is Rose's whole optimistic approach to life and Blanche's sense of adventure. I think we all have some of each of the girls in us.
It's fascinating, but not really surprising, to think about it how it has nothing to do with generation. I mean, my mother in her 80s loves them, and people who are in their early 20s know every line. I think that's because any good show is just about the people. You can identify with them when they form such a loving, chosen family. In the seven years that they live together, with all the things they went through, how they all stuck together and supported each other is just a fantastic thing to watch.
You know, you put something out there into a group of dedicated fans, you can't help but be a little nervous. But I think I did a good job treating the subject with respect. Plus, I think cooking is a way to bring people together. It always has been. It's an expression of love. And that's what the Golden Girls is all about -- bringing people together.
Absolutely. I think you'll do great. I think the fans are going to be very excited.
Thank you. Well, we're all about to find out.
The Golden Girls Cookbook with more than 90 different recipes is available wherever books are sold -- buy local and buy indie when possible!