Cookbook brings comfort food back home

kpurvis@charlotteobserver.comOctober 16, 2012 

  • Want to go? David Venable will sign copies of “In the Kitchen With David” (Ballantine, $30) at 7 p.m. Friday at Barnes & Noble, 760 SE Maynard, Cary.
  • Mom’s “Browned” Rice From “In the Kitchen With David,” by David Venable (Ballantine, 2012). This simple side dish from his mother, Sarah Venable of Charlotte, is one of Venable’s favorites. 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter 1 small onion, finely chopped 1 cup long-grain white rice 2 (10.75-ounce) can beef consomme soup 1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded cheddar PREHEAT the oven to 350 degrees. MELT the butter in a small saucepan. Add the onion and saute until translucent, about 5 minutes. Set aside. COMBINE the rice and consomme in a 3-quart baking dish. Stir in the onion and sprinkle evenly with the cheddar. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 50 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for 10 minutes longer, or until all the liquid has been absorbed and the top is lightly browned. Serve hot. VARIATIONS: Add dried cranberries, chopped pecans or almonds, chopped chives, sauteed mushrooms or frozen peas. YIELD: 4 servings.

It’s hard for David Venable to stop being David Venable.

Even away from his QVC cooking show, “In the Kitchen With David,” he talks fast and in a polished broadcaster style, a result of decades in front of the camera.

Still, these days when he’s talking about his new cookbook, “In the Kitchen With David: Comfort Foods That Take You Home,” what he’s often talking about is his own hometown – good ol’ Charlotte, N.C.

“I never miss a chance to talk about where I’m from,” he says. Born and raised in east Charlotte, class president of Independence High in 1983, he has “deep, deep, deep Charlotte roots.”

That message of home resonates throughout his book, which is unabashedly Southern-tinged, down-home, comfort food.

“Comfort food is that food that brings you home again,” he says. “It’s the food you hope your mom would make on your birthday.”

Apparently, that hits home with a lot of folks. Before the book was even released last week, it had sold 245,000 advance copies to QVC viewers, an extraordinary number when even the biggest cookbooks rarely sell more than 50,000 copies.

The road to QVC

Venable was in broadcasting long before he was in cooking. A graduate of UNC Chapel Hill (where he was also class president) with a degree in radio, TV and film, he was a news anchor and reporter in West Virginia and Pennsylvania before he landed on QVC, based near Philadelphia, almost 20 years ago.

But he always loved to cook and says he learned from his mother, Sarah, a nurse and single parent who raised three children. He also talks a lot about the influence of his grandmothers in Charlotte and Valdese.

Three years ago, he got the chance to take on a cooking show for QVC. “In the Kitchen With David” features recipes and appearances by chefs selling cookware and cookbooks. He hosts everyone from Nigella Lawson to Rachael Ray and Paula Deen, who got her start with her own book on QVC.

“I really wanted to put my handprint on the show and bring in this celebration of the home cook. That’s what I feel I am – I’m not a chef, I’m an accomplished home cook.”

Time for a cookbook

After all those years, why a cookbook now? The people spoke, he says. The show’s recipes, now up to 250, are posted online, and they were getting a lot of traffic.

“The customers were saying loud and clear, ‘It’s time for a cookbook.’” Still, he says he didn’t want to just print the recipes they already had. So about 80 percent of the book is new, while 20 percent was picked by readers online, labeled “Foodie Favorites.”

The recipes are mostly the kind of simple Southern cooking Venable learned growing up.

“The book is all about accessibility,” he says. “It’s all about bringing the family back around. Growing up, family dinner was nonnegotiable.”

Venable is single, but he still cooks and entertains at home a lot.

“Cooking and eating is so much about having interaction with other people. I don’t really enjoy cooking alone,” he says. For him, it always ends up in the kitchen with friends, glass of wine in hand.

The book will give him an excuse to bring himself home, too. He’s doing book signings in both Charlotte and Cary. He’ll get a chance to visit with his brother in Hillsborough and, of course, his mom in Charlotte.

Not that she doesn’t see him frequently already. Sarah Venable is “an avid, avid QVC watcher,” he says. “When she can’t be home, she records me. She watches all of it.”

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