If there is one word to describe Claire Robinson—it’s passionate! Especially when it comes to food! As the host of not one but two popular shows on The Food Network—5 Ingredient Fix (Saturdays at 12:30pm ET) and Food Network Challenge (Sundays at 8pm ET)—she’s been encouraging aspiring chefs everywhere to keep things simple and not be afraid to experiment in the kitchen. We caught up with Claire for our own fix of her foodie inspired tips, tricks and inspiration!
RadarOnline.com: Where did your love of food begin?
Claire Robinson: It’s funny. Food has been such a big influence in my life since I was a little kid. I was one of those really nerdy, geeky kids. I’d come home and instead of watching Scooby-Doo, I would watch James Beard, and all those old school cooking shows like Great Chefs, Great Cities. This was before Food Network even existed. I remember when Food Network started and I thought it was just the coolest thing in the entire world. My mom said that when I was a kid, I would just live in the kitchen. I would stay there. My first word was “hot” because she was always trying to get me away from the oven.
RadarOnline.com: When did you start experimenting and cooking in the kitchen?
CR: My mother is kind of a hippie. She’s a surreal oil painter. So, she was very supportive of a little kid thinking, “Hey, I want to make Martha Stewart berry muffins from scratch and make a huge mess in the kitchen!” She would go and get all the ingredients for me and I would go crazy cooking. It was really great to have that freedom and for her to let me play. But, I didn’t cook as a career at first. I actually did other careers and finally I was like, “I want to do what I love most,” and quit my whole life and chased my dream.
RadarOnline.com: How did you get the idea for 5 Ingredient Fix?
CR: I went to France, actually and it was really fascinating because in Southwest France, there’s nothing. There are no grocery stores. There are no little markets. There’s nothing. There is a farmer’s market on Saturdays and if you don’t hit that, you’re not going to have anything. So I had my little bicycle and I would go and knock on doors. We’re talking the houses are way far apart because it’s all farmland. It’s all agricultural. So, I would go and knock on these doors with my little basket on the front of my bicycle and try and find somebody that had chickens and they’d go wring a chicken’s neck in the back and bring it to me. But, what was incredible was they were just eating the most simple dishes and it all kind of derived from peasant dishes that turned into recipes that now we love. It was really fascinating because they were using so few ingredients and just really amazing quality ingredients. Coming out of culinary school and private chefing in New York City where there’s a hundred million things in your recipes, it was more of like, “Oh, yeah. This is how most of the world eats.” If you’re not living in a big city, you’re using what you’ve got.
RadarOnline.com: What are your favorite ingredients to work with?
CR: Oh, gosh. The ingredients I use a lot of, you’ll notice, is bacon. I love bacon. It makes everything better. But, it’s not just the flavor of it. It’s really, really versatile. It’s one of those things that I think people forget how many uses it has. For example, if you’re grilling something or you’re roasting something; things that tend to dry out normally like pork tenderloin—if you put some bacon on top, it will naturally baste the meat. And you can even take the bacon off before you serve it, but it will just keep everything nice and moist because it will almost melt and just continuously baste the meat. I also love to render the fat and then cook in that because a little bit of bacon fat isn’t going to kill you and if I can get somebody to eat Brussels sprouts; toss a little bit of bacon fat on some fresh Brussels sprouts, throw it in the oven to crisp a little bit – oh, that is so good.
RadarOnline.com: What advice do you have for amateur chefs?
CR: I always tell people be the executive chef of your kitchen, of your own home. You are your own executive chef, so you decide what’s right and wrong. Nobody else does. You don’t have to follow recipes to a tee. You can read the recipe before you cook it and then get in your kitchen, pour your favorite drink, put your favorite music on, relax and then cook. I feel like people get in there so fast and just start doing stuff, and then things go wrong. And they start to kind of panic, and then it’s not a good experience. This should be fun. Cooking should be one of the most pleasurable, enjoyable experiences.
RadarOnline.com: What is the most common mistake people make?
CR: One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was to read the recipe before you actually do anything. It was something that Julia Child always said. Read the recipe first. And it is one of the best pieces of advice I think that anybody can have is to read the recipe first because you need to know the gist of what you’re doing. It will help you get away from following that recipe to the tee and it will let you start to become a chef in your own home, and it will let you start to make decisions. I think that’s what’s so great about five ingredients. I’m flattered by people telling me, “Oh, I loved your so and so recipe, and I added this and this to it.” And I’m like, “Well, now it’s your recipe. You made it your own.” And they became an executive chef in their own kitchen. I think with five ingredients – yes, there are five ingredients that are, in my opinion, they’re put together, they’re great, they’re perfect as-is. But, if you like the flavor of basil and basil is not in there, add it in.
RadarOnline.com: What if you don’t like one of the five ingredients?
CR: I guarantee you with only five, you’re probably not going to like something because if you don’t like orange and I’m making my creamy roasted broccoli which has a lot of orange in it, you’re not going to like my creamy roasted broccoli with a lot of orange. But, if you like lime or lemon, you could replace it and it becomes your own thing. And I think with five ingredients, I’m finding people are more apt to do that. They are actually adding in something here, or taking something away, or changing out an ingredient and they’re really playing with the recipe. I find that, to me, there’s no better way to learn to cook and that’s what I want people doing.
RadarOnline.com: With all the cooking you do yourself, what are some of your favorite chefs and restaurants?
CR: Oh, my goodness. It’s funny. Being in this industry, you tend to go where you know the chefs. So, I go to restaurants where I know chefs, especially when I have writer’s block. I kind of go to get inspired. Sometimes, they have something that’s really good. It’s weird. It doesn’t mean I go home and write something with similar ingredients. It’s just when you have something that’s so wonderful, I get all excited and it’s like my creativity starts to flow and I start to be able to think of these new combinations that have nothing to do with what I just ate. So, it depends. I’ll sometimes go to Café Boulud where Gavin Kaysen’s the chef. I think he’s great. I go to Bobby’s [Flay] restaurants sometimes. I think Bar American is super fun for brunch.
RadarOnline.com: Tell us about your new hosting gig on Food Network Challenge!
CR: There’s a whole new set, which is a little bit more like Iron Chef’s Kitchen Stadium style. I’m calling it “The House of Challenge,” because I feel like it’s really cool. The first time I walked in, I was like, “This is awesome!” It has blue and red lights everywhere and a little bit of smoke in the air. I almost expected Metallica or AC/DC to be playing when I walked in. It was just the coolest thing. And also, the challenges are changing. They’re adding extreme elements to almost every show. When I was just a viewer of this show, I always had these questions in my head like, “Well, what’s going on with this?” and other things that I would want further explanations for. So, I think what’s really nice about adding the element of a host to Food Network Challenge is that I can be that person for the audience and kind of speak to them for them as I’m just there watching the entire eight-hour competition unfold. And, I’m hoping that some of the people that are watching Food Network Challenge will want to carry on into the daytime world and see 5 Ingredient Fix. It’s like, “Hey, so while you’re watching Food Network Challenge, let’s throw these five ingredients together” and of course vice versa!