Melanie Dunea / USA WEEKEND
Her popular Food Network cooking show is Trishaís Southern Kitchen but for the last decade this Georgia girl and three-time Grammy winner has been an Okie, juggling pots, pans, writing and music on a spread north of Tulsa with husband Garth Brooks and daughters Taylor, August and Allie. Here she shares some kitchen confidential, previews her hubbyís episode and reveals what their Thanksgiving table will look like. (Not what you think!)
Was the show filmed in your home kitchen?
No, thereís just not room for 30 extra people in our house every day for a month. Cooking shows all have those cook-tops in islands in the center of the kitchen to accommodate the camera. My cooktop faces the wall and a whole season of my butt isnít what people want to see or what I want people to see! But we did find a real house just down the road.
Do you script the show?
No! [laughs] Itís painfully obvious, isnít it? I think because itís not scripted it comes off as real and conversational, which it is. The show is based on the books, and the books worked because people loved the stories as much as they loved the recipes. So we just told the stories from the books on TV and food accidentally got made in the process of a lot of laughing and story-telling.
Were you pleased the first time you saw the show?
I was amazed! Sometimes when weíre shooting I think, ĎAre we getting anything?í But thatís the directorís job, to make sure a show is coming together. I kinda call myself the quarterback. Iím trying to make my guests comfortable and realize they donít have to remember everything because Iíll get them through. I need to think about the story Iím telling and remember the ingredients. Thereís a lot going on! The real magic is in the editing.
You shot the first season in Nashville. Was it easier to shoot in Oklahoma?
In Nashville I could collapse on the couch by myself at the end of the day. At the end of the day in Oklahoma there was homework or soccer or some activity. But I didnít want to be gone from the girls for as long as it would take to do 13 episodes. Garth was a big help. He took care of dinner every night and really made it easy for me to do this.
Does he do a lot of cooking at home?
He does cook, but nothing that is very involved. We kind of have our own specialties. He makes pasta salad, with his favorite thing, tortellini. Heís made these peanut butter balls for years with the girls, if they need to take something to school or for the soccer team, he has it covered. I showed him how to make my Tyís Thai salad. When Iím going out of town Iíll make a batch of lasagna and a bowl of that salad and they can live on it for a couple of days. Itís either that or drive-through!
Does he appear in an episode this season?
He does, he has his own episode. We called it ĎGartha Stewartí during the shoot but itís now ĎGarth Brooks in the Kitchen.í We did a Black Bean Lasagne from a recipe from the first book, the Thai Salad and the peanut butter balls. He did really well, but that night, he was like ĎI had no idea how much work goes into making this!í It was all magical to him.
How do you make southern cooking healthy?
Thatís kind of the next frontier for me, trying to figure out how to make these great southern foods healthier and better for you. Garth turned 50 his year so heís starting really to think about cholesterol and other health issues. But no matter how healthy it is, if it doesnít pass the taste test, itís not working. Iíve got a handful of recipes that do work and a lot more Iíve tried that donít.
Can you share one that has worked?
I did a Black Bean Lasagna makeover that the whole family eats and loves. We love black beans, we love lasagna and we love cheese in our house. But I found a recipe for tofu ricotta and took out the cheese. Iím a southern girl and not a fan of chopped tofu pretending to be chicken, but this is a great recipe. You put it in the food processor and pulse it until it gets creamy like cheese, then add some basil and olive oil and itís so good.
Are there other special dietary requests from the family?
Our youngest is a vegetarian, and Iíve learned a lot from her. My biggest issue is figuring out how not to lose flavor when you make things vegetarian or healthier. Iíve found that making my own recipes healthier or vegetarian is easier than picking up a lot of new books with recipes that have a lot of weird ingredients in them.
Are the girls on the show this year?
Our two younger girls, August and Allie, were on the Halloween show and were so good. Garth has been very protective of them and I understand that but I felt like it was weird that my whole family has been on the show but not my children. Halloween is a big deal for us. We still dress up and we trick-or-treated with the girls long past when they wanted us to. We live out in the country so no one comes to our house but that doesnít stop Garth from buying a bunch of candy and then we eat it.
Do you dress up your table for the Thanksgiving meal?
I donít really Ďdoí the table for Thanksgiving. I might get crazy and put out orange placemats and set the table instead of stacking the plates in the kitchen and telling the girls to serve themselves. Thatís about as fancy as we get. Iíve been asked about maybe doing a Ďlifestyleí thing with decorating and table settings and I just had to laugh. Itís not about that for me. Iím kind of the Ďif I canít put it in a dishwasher I donít want ití kind of girl.
Are you finding time for music in between cookbooks and cooking shows?
This show has been a surprise, to have a kind of second career. Iíve enjoyed it. But my music gets put on the back burner. I was working on a record in Nashville at the beginning of the year, and then the show happened. I did some Vegas shows with Garth. He says when theyíre about to hang him, he brings me out and I save him. Itís been fun, it keeps my chops up. And Iíve sung on a couple of cool projects this year, on a Bob Seger record and a Don Henley record. But my own record is a work in progress.
Have you done any songwriting?
Not successfully [laughs]. Iím so confident to sing, but to write---it doesnít come easily to meóitís hard. If youíre Garth, and no one is pitching a song you like, you write one. For me, itís more of a challenge. Writing the books taught me that Iím a storyteller, but I canít put it to music. Garth can. So maybe I write the story and he can help me figure out how to make it into a song. Garth has always said that Iím a songwriter. Thatís a goal of mine.
What does the future look like for you and Garth?
The plan is that once our youngest graduates from high school in 2014 to go back to Nashville. The middle one just went to college, so we only have one left in the house. She loves music and she is actually thinking of Belmont [Trishaís alma mater]. Can you imagine, her parents following her to college in Nashville? It would be the worst thing ever for her [laughs] I told Garth, ĎHoney, if she goes there and we do too, you canít expect to see her. Sheíll be home for laundry and thatís it!í