Comfort in the Kitchen: Questions for Katie Lee

Katie Lee is a knockout, sure, but she’s also got some serious chops in the kitchen. The self-proclaimed “hillbilly princess” is a best-selling cookbook author with regular television appearances and a monthly column in Cosmopolitan—and is as famous for her former marriage to Billy Joel as she is for her award-winning pattymelt burgers. We spoke to her recently about moving carefully into the celeb-chef category, perhaps most importantly, how to cook up a man-eating serving of meatloaf.

JULIA TURSHEN: Who taught you to cook? Who inspired you to be in the kitchen?

KATIE LEE: My grandmother Dora taught me how to cook. She’s from a small town in West Virginia called Milton. I would pull a stool up to her kitchen counter after school. My love of food started there.

TURSHEN: Do you still cook with her?

LEE: Yes, and in fact I’m going home this weekend. She makes the best food, world over. I guess it’s that comfort food feeling that takes you back to a place in time. Food is like music in that way—you hear a song and maybe it brings you back to prom. For me, a batch of biscuits takes me home to grandma’s kitchen.

TURSHEN: What’s your favorite of all her dishes?

LEE: I love her biscuits and her steak and gravy. I do it exactly like how she tells me to do it, but it never turns out right. I don’t know what I’m missing. She’s 78 and she got married when she was 16. I always think of my grandfather as the original foodie.  He was the slowest eater.  He savored everything. Even when everyone was gone from the table, he was still eating.

TURSHEN: Your Logan County hamburgers are famous—what’s another signature Katie Lee dish?

LEE: That simple, silly burger, I can’t believe they won the Burger Bash and people know them by name—I never thought that I’d be the burger queen. I guess my other signatures are my fried chicken and also my meatloaf.

TURSHEN: In your recent interview for the New York Times with Frank Bruni, you said you refer to meatloaf as “man-loaf” because it’s the way to get a man to fall in love with you.  Depending upon the man, do you change the ingredients or are all men equal? How do you make yours?

LEE: I do always make it the same way.  I do it with sautéed onions, bell peppers, herbs, and I put Worcestershire sauce and ketchup in the meatloaf and on top of it. It’s traditional. The only time I make a change is if I have a non-red meat-eating friend; then I make it with turkey and it’s still really good. I like to make meatloaf sliders too which are easy for a party because you don’t have to flip a ton of burgers. You make a bunch of miniature meatloaves and put them in the oven all at once.

TURSHEN: What would be the complete heart-swaying meatloaf menu?

LEE: I serve it with mashed potatoes and green bean casserole, which is a real traditional Southern dish and is usually made with a can of condensed mushroom soup and a can of fried onion rings.  I make a homemade cream sauce with homemade fried shallots. Done the traditional with the cans, you taste it all day. It’s one of those things, like a greasy donut.

TURSHEN: Would you ever want to have your own restaurant?

LEE: It’s an idea I’ve toyed with, but if I were going to do it I would want to do it right. I would want to be there every day and I’m not ready for that. Maybe one day: I’m not ruling it out.

TURSHEN: Other than your own, what cookbooks do you refer to most often?

LEE: I love the Barefoot Contessa cookbooks—they’re so nicely done and her recipes are beautiful and simple. I love Martha Stewart, and I love Donna Hay, from Australia. I just love to look at cookbooks, it’s almost like they’re comic books for me. I can’t look at them before bed; it gets me too excited.

TURSHEN: What are your favorite three ingredients?

LEE: Definitely butter. And you know what, I like salted butter. Of course I love garlic. And I use a lot of cilantro. I’d say salt, butter and fresh herbs. But lemons are important too. Butter, salt, garlic, herbs and lemon. My top five. Now I’m hungry.