March 4, 1998 in Food

Still Galloping Graham Kerr, TV’s Flamboyant ‘Galloping Gourmet,’ Finds New Life As A Low-Fat Disciple

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Graham Kerr - The Galloping Gourmet, one of the original celebrity TV chefs - was having lunch recently at a cafe in Stanwood, a town north of Seattle he’s called home for the past four years.

The restaurant’s chef, a friend of Kerr’s, stopped by his table with a meatloaf recipe. “He wants me to help him find a way to make a meatloaf with less fat,” Kerr said later. “because he really cares about his customers.”

Kerr cares, too.

The native of England, who earned his “Galloping Gourmet” moniker in the ‘60s by eating at 117 restaurants in 38 days (“we thought about calling ourselves the galloping gluttons”), has done an about-face from the days when butter and cream were part of his lifeblood.

“We were young then we didn’t think about our health,” Kerr said while munching on a chicken quesadilla.

Now, he wants to help others see that eating healthy doesn’t have to mean bland, boring foods. For his new book, “The Gathering Place” (Camano Press, 1997), he traveled the world looking for vividly seasoned dishes that excite the taste buds without coating them with fat.

“So many people have tried low-fat foods and are deeply offended by them,” he said. “They say they’ve tried that nonfat cheese and that’s not the way cheese should taste. They’re going to eat cheese the way it was meant to be eaten and they go for broke. I want to help people realize there is a middle ground.”

A series of dramatic events over the past 25 years led Kerr to this new, lean approach to cooking and eating.

After three wildly successful years of “The Galloping Gourmet,” Kerr and his wife, Treena, were in a serious car accident in 1971.

“This vegetable truck rear-ended us, just massacred us,” Kerr said.

He was partially paralyzed and could no longer go on with his show.

The lone bright spot in that scenario came in the form of a sailboat.

“We used the money from the insurance settlement to buy a boat and go on a world tour,” he said.

Nearly two years and 25,000 miles later, the “Treena” ran aground in Chesapeake Bay. “That was the end of the world tour,” Kerr said. “Treena found a house she liked and we stayed.”

The grounded vessel might have been a metaphor for Kerr’s tumultuous life at the time. His wife had become addicted to painkillers following the accident and Kerr felt powerless to help.

Kerr calls what happened next divine intervention.

“We had a housekeeper who asked Treena why she didn’t give her problems to God,” he said. “Treena went with her to her little storefront church and it turned out to be a profound experience. She quit the pills cold turkey, the doctors couldn’t believe it. And I had the wife of my youth back.”

Kerr’s conversion came later, and with it, the focus of his work shifted. He still thought of food, but dreamed of working with churches to teach people in struggling countries to start self-sustaining farms. Yet he couldn’t find a way to finance the efforts.

“I spent five years of my life, gave it every ounce of energy and failed,” he said.

During that time, Kerr and his wife were like nomads, living in Colorado, California, Hawaii, Salem, Ore., and finally Tacoma. That’s where he became a confirmed Pacific Northwesterner.

“We’ve had 26 homes in our 43 years of marriage, but we lived in Tacoma longer than anywhere else,” Kerr said. Later, they moved to Kirkland and, finally, to Stanwood.

There, Kerr works out of his dream kitchen in a waterfront home on Camano Island.

“One wall is all huge windows facing the water,” he said. “It’s all done in natural colors, with hunter green and white tile.”

He believes in using standard household appliances while creating new dishes, rather than professional equipment, because “that’s the way most Americans cook.”

One special feature in his kitchen is something Kerr calls his “power pantry.” It’s a series of open shelves that cover an entire wall and offer instant inspiration.

The food Kerr prepares these days reflects the healthy lifestyle he and Treena adopted years ago.

“My wife is predisposed to heart problems and had a cholesterol level of well over 300,” he said. “We take a sabbatical every seven years and I want us to be well enough to enjoy it. That’s my motivation.”

Kerr initially stumbled onto the notion of eating a low-fat diet quite by accident, though.

“It started because I was seasick on the boat during our world tour and I found that a low-fat diet helped with that,” he said. “After 24 months of eating that way, I was so incredibly changed. It absolutely ignited my energy level.”

At 64, Kerr needs a lot of energy to maintain his busy schedule. He long ago dropped the “Galloping Gourmet” title, but he still trots around the globe at a steady pace.

“Last year, I traveled 174 days,” he said. “I don’t like to be away from home that much. I’m going to be better this year.”

He hopes to get out on his sailboat more often and make more time to enjoy his friends and family. As “The Gathering Place” suggests, a large part of that interaction should center around the dinner table.

The book opens with this heartfelt introduction: “I passionately believe that the home dining table is our last remaining tribal gathering place. Sitting face-to-face, elbow-to-elbow over hot, steaming plates of simple food, we nourish our bodies and feed our souls.”

Kerr is disturbed by efforts in recent years by the fast-food industry and supermarket chains to convince people they don’t have time to cook.

“As a culture, we are being massaged to believe we don’t have time to cook,” he said. “People say they’re too busy, but they still find time to watch TV.”

Working a little creative cooking into your schedule can be most rewarding.

“Cooking is an act of kindness. You lose that when you buy something someone else has made,” he said.

And it doesn’t have to be complicated to be satisfying. Take one of Kerr’s newest tricks, for instance. He tosses roasted vegetables such as butternut squash, beets, parsnips or carrots into the food processor with evaporated skim milk. “The whole thing turns to velvet,” he said.

“One of the great marvels of being alive in the food business is that there’s always more to learn. You’re never going to learn it all.”

“The Gathering Place” is part cookbook, part travel guide, with a chapter devoted to each destination. It begins in New York before heading to ports of call including Fort Lauderdale, St. Thomas, Mexico, Hawaii and New Zealand, where Kerr had his first radio cooking show in the 1950s.

The recipes reflect the traditional cuisine of the countries visited, modified to fit Kerr’s low-fat lifestyle.

Flank Steak Broiled in a Spiced Rub

This dish comes from the beef-loving country of Columbia.

1-1/2 pounds flank steak, trimmed of all visible fat

4 cloves garlic, chopped fine

1/4 cup onion, chopped fine

1 jalapeno pepper, cored, seeded and finely diced (use rubber gloves when handling peppers)

1 Roma (plum) tomato, cored, seeded and finely diced

1/8 teaspoon powdered bay leaf (or thyme)

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon salt Tomato-Jalapeno Sauce (recipe follows)

1/2 teaspoon light olive oil

Place the flank steak in a shallow dish and spread the chopped garlic, onion, jalapeno and diced tomato over the top. Sprinkle both sides of meat with the bay leaf or thyme, cayenne, allspice and salt. Using the flat side of a large knife, massage the mixture into the meat. Marinate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

While the beef is marinating, make the Tomato-Jalapeno Sauce.

To cook the steak, preheat the broiler. Warm a large frying pan over high heat and add the olive oil. Brown the steak for 1 minute in the frying pan, then slide the steak onto the rack of a broiler pan, browned side down. Spray the top of the steak with cooking spray and broil for 10 minutes, until crusted on top but still pink in the middle.

Transfer the steak, including its juices, to a large plate and carve diagonally against the grain into thin slices. Pour juices from broiler pan and plate into the Tomato-Jalapeno Sauce. Serve steak slices topped with a generous spoonful of sauce. Yield: 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 270 calories, 10 grams fat (32 percent fat calories), 18 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber.

Tomato-Jalapeno Sauce

1/2 teaspoon light olive oil

2 cups sweet onion, roughly chopped

3 jalapeno peppers, cored, seeded and roughly chopped

3 Roma (plum) tomatoes, quartered

1 (14-1/2-ounce) can crushed tomatoes in puree

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon powdered bay leaf (or thyme)

1 tablespoon arrowroot or cornstarch

2 tablespoons water

Warm oil in medium frying pan over medium heat. Saute onions until slightly browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the jalapenos, tomatoes (fresh and canned), salt, allspice and bay leaf. Cook for 10 minutes over low heat; cover and set aside.

To finish the sauce, while the steak is broiling, pour 1/2 cup water into the frying pan in which the steak was browned and stir to remove the flavorful bits of meat from the bottom of the pan. Pour this liquid into a medium saucepan. Press the tomato sauce through a sieve into the same saucepan, discarding the pulp.

Combine the arrowroot with 2 tablespoons water, add to the sauce and stir over medium heat until thickened.

Black Rice

This side dish is a Colombian classic.

1/2 teaspoon light olive oil

1/2 cup onion, finely chopped

1 cup long-grain white rice

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/8 teaspoon allspice

1-1/2 teaspoons coconut flavoring, divided use

2 cups low-sodium beef or vegetable stock

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained

2 tablespoons fresh lime juice

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Warm the oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. Saute the onion for 2 minutes until soft. Stir in the rice and saute for an additional 2 minutes. Add the cayenne, allspice and teaspoon coconut flavoring. Cook long enough to warm the spices, then remove from heat.

Transfer rice to an ovenproof baking dish, approximately 8 inches square. Cover with the stock. Bake for 20 minutes. When the rice is done, remove from the oven and stir in the black beans, lime juice and remaining coconut flavoring. Yield: 6 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 157 calories, 1 gram fat (3 percent fat calories), 34 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams fiber.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

Staff illustration by Bridget Sawicki

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