I was boarding a plane to Maui with Philip, my sister Carina, and her husband Raymundo when the email came in for me. Since we decided a few months ago that Philip would be my main representation, all of my work stuff also passes by his inbox, so we both read it and kind of looked at each other with the same face… SERIOUSLY?
You see, this trip was intended to be the beginning of a much needed (short) hiatus for me. My body was destroyed (still is, but it’s getting better). I’d been gone all summer on book tour and taping The Kitchen. And the past 4 years I’ve traveled every single month to the East Coast for a week… all of this while being pregnant and nursing two babies and a few other very overwhelming projects like cookbooks and partnerships. I was fried.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m a hustler. If you’ve been reading me for a while, you know how I feel about sleep: it’s a waste of valuable time! When I was younger, I used to HATE the weekends because offices were closed and work stopped. But man, these two babies and the teen and the work were getting a little nutty, so I was taking a few months off (more on that and The Kitchen next week, I PROMISE). Or at least I thought I was.
But there was this show on the Food Network… a baking competition, and they needed a judge. Honestly, my first reaction was HELL NO. I knew that, if I even considered it, the whole vacation we were headed towards would be focused on the negotiation and I seriously just wanted to lay on the beach with a mai tai for a week straight and not have to use a single brain cell. But then the details came in:
You’ll be judging pros who will be making a lot of the French classics… (Um... I’m obsessed with all things French and that was my specialty many years ago at the Ritz-Escoffier Cooking School!)
It’s taped in LA… (I DON’T HAVE TO LEAVE THE KIDS; Philip has a home there!)
Adam Rapoport is the host… (He’s just like the coolest food guy there is, who also happens to be the Editor in Chief of Bon Appetit Magazine!)
Your co-judge would be Jason Smith, the winner of Food Network Star… (Um... great, but I have no idea who he is seeing as how I don’t watch television… not even when I’m on it. Cringe! Who does that?!)
I’d start on Tuesday. TUESDAY. It was Thursday and I was in freaking Maui. Which might sound, like, whatever. Just fly to LA and shoot but the kids were in San Diego and, contrary to popular belief, I don’t have minions over here resolving all things Casa Marcela. It’s a military operation to move 4 kids (Fau’s friend Charlie was with us) and 2 caretakers 120 miles north the same day you land from Hawaii. But guess what? I said yes. Of course I did.
So I landed from Hawaii at 6pm. Got home, said hi to everybody. Dinner, baths, and bedtime for the babies, got in the car with just the teens, Fau and Charlie, and headed to LA. Philip stayed back to wait for our nanny that was coming on Tuesday, then took her and the littles up Tuesday morning. By the time they all got up to LA, I was already in full hair and makeup and ready to start my first dessert tasting to find the Best Baker in America.
Backing up a bit though... I was sitting in the makeup chair and in walked Jason Smith. He was kinda quiet at first, assessing the situation, I guess. And then he opened his mouth and I realized that OMG he’s, like, REALLY southern!!! Although I may have been a little concerned that we’d have nothing in common, once we got to chatting, he turned out to be the sweetest, kindest, and one of the most genuine guys I’d ever met on a set. It takes a huge load off to know that you’ll be spending the next couple of weeks with a nice, normal person! I mean, truly, sometimes it ain’t that way.
Anyway, half the time I needed a translator to understand what the hell he was talking about with his southern sayings, and he didn’t even know what “buenos dias” meant, so needless to say, our conversations were interesting. But it turns out he’s a cool cat with sick knowledge about what it takes to make a good dessert. I’ve decided I’m taking him to Mexico with me; I’m gonna make him eat crickets in Oaxaca whether he likes it or not. And he wants me on his farm making huevos rancheros (I had to explain those too) with fresh eggs from his chickens… one of whom, by the way, is named Marcela. Ha! I did the guy a favor and he said he’d name a child after me in reward for my kindness but had no intentions of having children. I said, “well, you have chickens, don’t you?” So now I text him photos of the kids and he texts me photos of Marcela, the chicken. She’s not allowed to be eaten. Marcela the chicken will grow old with Jason Smith. He also texts me recipes like this apple pie recipe that is probably one of the best apple pies I’ve ever made.
Now I’ll text Rapoport, too, and see if I can get a recipe from him to post as well... but I just have to say, I had such a blast with these two. I so appreciated how, for the three of us, it was so important that we judge fairly and accurately. All three of us were so invested in truly understanding the rules of the game so we could find the best among the best. We certainly had some serious laughs along the way. There’s a GIF somewhere of the 3 of us doing pushups in the middle of the kitchen. But, in all honesty (and I can’t speak for them), I’ve never been so excited and so serious about my role on a show. I think I made two good friends and I know I’m getting some amazing recipes. I mean, along with this pie recipe, he sent a few others that also look insane; I’ll post them as soon as I test them! And as for the pie, I’m just going to post the recipe exactly as he sent it, hand-written!
Tune in my friends. This show? It’s gonna be good. REAL good. Catch the Best Baker in America on Food Network beginning September, 27th at 10pm. See you there! And please make this pie and tell me what you think…
Best Ever Ky Apple Pie
By Jason Smith
3 Granny Smith Apples, peeled and sliced
3 Gala Apples, peeled and sliced
1 Golden Delicious Apple, peeled and sliced
½ cup white sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
¼ cup honey
1 stick butter
½ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground clove
½ teaspoon fresh grated ginger
½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon water plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch, for slurry
1 egg plus 1 teaspoon milk, to create egg wash
2 sheets pie dough
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Place peeled apples in a large kettle, pour the sugars, honey, spiced and butter over apples. Cook on medium just until apples start to soften, this takes about 15-20 minutes. Meanwhile spray a pie dish and place one sheet of dough in pan. Brush inside of dough with egg wash, when apples are done stir in the salt and cornstarch slurry. The slurry is the cornstarch mixed with 1 tablespoon water. Pour in shell, then either place the second sheet of dough on top and crimp edges or cut into strips and do a lattice top. If using the whole sheet as a solid top cut 4 slits in the middle for steam to escape. Brush top with egg wash, bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown.