“Yes, my name is actually Fanny, and no, it’s not short for anything.” That’s what Fanny Slater told us when we asked if there was anything she wanted to say to fans to introduce herself. We recently caught up with her on the set of Kitchen Sink, the brand-new series all about party-ready dishes and can-do techniques, and she told us about her style of cooking and a few of her favorite dinners and ingredients. Read on below to hear more from Fanny in a one-on-one chat and learn her secrets to becoming a “CEO.” (Spoiler: It’s not what you think.)
Many Food Network fans might know you from when you won Rachael Ray’s Great American Cookbook competition. But for newcomers, how would you describe your style of cooking? What will you bring to the party on Kitchen Sink?
Fanny Slater: I would say I’m bringing a little fun and silliness and storytelling, and the food that I love to eat from my childhood, which is really what the cookbook was based on. Just what I grew up with and how I put my own spin on it. So [I’m] definitely sort of a storytelling type of person. I love when food has a story behind it.
Do you gravitate towards to certain cuisine or style of cooking?
FS: I like elevated comfort foods — comfort foods in a tuxedo. Things that are familiar to me or things that are comforting to me but done up a little bit, definitely nothing too fancy. I don’t really gravitate toward a certain type of cultural cuisine — I guess maybe American or New American if I had to pick one.
What are you most looking forward to in terms of working with an ensemble?
FS: Everyone grew up with different culinary backgrounds, and that aspect of it, bringing them all together — everyone has a different bite of food that tastes like childhood to them, and I think that bringing all those things together in one bite is really fun. So you’re getting such a variety of types of foods, types of flavors and types of personality in the food. That’s what’s fun about us. It’s not just you and your ideas, but it’s also getting to work with a team of people who also love food as much as you do.
Let’s say it’s a regular Tuesday night and you are at home. What are you making for dinner?
FS: Cast-iron chicken thighs … Whatever I have in the fridge is a go-to with the chicken thighs. But I just love getting the skin extra crispy in the cast-iron and doing the whole thing in there. But I’ll usually do lemon — lemon gets all nice and charred in the oven — fresh herbs and then potatoes in there too, and it’s kind of a one-pot meal.
Tell us a bit about your approach to reading a recipe and how viewers have the potential to make any recipe their own.
FS: In almost every case, you can substitute whatever you want. So if you need a cheese that’s really melty and oozy, you don’t want to use feta or something like that. But in most instances, I think everyone can really just substitute vegetables and citrus and proteins for whatever flavors they enjoy.
What do consider to be your signature dish?
FS: There is a breakfast sandwich that my dad made for me when I was growing up. He would wrap it in tin foil, and it was always the same thing — it was eggs and cheese. And he would give it to us in the car. He was the one who made it, but he would turn around, and he’d say, “What did you get?” So we’d call it the Tin-Foil Surprise.” So I make my own version of that, and it’s pretty much always on an English muffin [with] fluffy scrambled eggs, and I love to toy with a different cheese, a different jam. The orange-lavender fig jam is what my book is named for. So I would say that breakfast sandwich and just making it fun using a different spread, a different jam, a different herb oil, different cheese, different vegetables in there. I think that breakfast should be different and fun and exciting every day, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.
Food hacks are all the rage these days, and they’ll certainly make appearances on Kitchen Sink. Do you have a favorite food hack, or perhaps a helpful shortcut?
FS: I think when you’re cooking a lot during the week, a lot of things that people don’t enjoy doing are all the prep. I think sometimes on a Sunday it’s a great day to do a bunch of prep for the week, so that way when you get home, you don’t have to do all the chopping. So for example, if you know you’re going to use garlic almost every night — I never buy the store-bought minced garlic. I’ll just take a couple heads of garlic, which obviously are very inexpensive, and pop the cloves out, put them into a food processor with a little bit of oil, and that will give you your own fresh homemade garlic. And just put a little bit of oil in it and that’ll keep for the week. And that can go into all your dishes.
Is there one store-bought ingredient that you do condone people taking to make prep work a little easier?
FS: Most definitely. There is a Thai red curry paste that I use. The Thai red curry paste — all day long — is a great store-bought ingredient. [It] keeps in the pantry. Once you open it, [it] goes in the fridge — keeps forever. All you really need with that is ginger, lemon grass, garlic, the red curry paste and some coconut milk, and you’ve got this great sauce base for any vegetables, any protein, any starch.
What food trend from 2016 are you hoping doesn’t stick around in the new year? Is there something that you are hoping does become a big deal in the food space in 2017?
FS: Yeah, the rainbow everything. Like rainbow bagels, rainbow this, rainbow that. I think it’s fun and it looks fun, but it doesn’t really have any flavor. … I would rather eat something that isn’t as colorful but just blows my mind with flavor, rather than look at something that I’m like, “Cool, it looks like a unicorn but tastes plain.” So I could say good bye to that.
And as for things that I would like to welcome, I would like to bring back artichokes. About time. Hail to the artichokes. … I think they are very underrated. They’re so much fun to make, so easy to cook and so much fun to eat. Such a great appetizer for your family instead of, like, chips and dip. So, all hail artichokes.
On your blog, you call yourself a “CEO (Chief Eating Officer).” What advice would you give someone who also wanted to be a “CEO” and pursue food or recipe writing, like you did?
FS: For me, in my down time I always focused on what I wanted to be my job, which was food writing and blogging and recipe development. So any spare time that I got — because it was something that I enjoyed — I tried to devote that additional time to it, and for me it was kind of leisurely. And then another great tip that is at least very helpful for me — if I have an idea in mind or something that I need to work out, whether usually with writing or a recipe, what helps me is I live on the river walk, and it’s such a great place to go run. So I would say that getting out and doing a little exercise, whether it’s running or taking a walk through a pretty area. … I don’t believe in over-working yourself to death. I believe in the balance of doing work but also doing things that are good for you inside and out, and I think one of those is literally going out and taking a walk, even if it’s 15 minutes. I meditate, but a lot of people don’t do that. But I think it’s just a great way to clear your head, and sometimes when you do that, that helps you see things a little clearer. But as far as you taking that jump, you have to reach out for every opportunity that’s in front of you. You have to say yes to everything. You have to get out there and meet people and network. I live in a small town, and I made sure that everyone knew who I was in every circle, because I thought, this is what I want to do and I want to make sure that people remember my name. And so little touches were a big part of it — dropping off sandwiches or sending writing samples. And it’s the Gary Vaynerchuk Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook method. It’s all about not really asking for anything. It’s just about giving of yourself, even if it’s just a little piece, and hoping that putting it out there into the universe kind of gives you something back.
Tune in to Kitchen Sink on Sunday, Jan. 15 at 11a|10c.