The hosts of the award winning LGBTQ web-based cooking show, “The Curious Cook,” along with Penny Lane Pictures are throwing a wrap party to mark the finish of their second season. The invitation only event on February 10, 2014 at Slate, is benefiting City Harvest, an organization that helps to feed the hungry of New York City.
“The Curious Cook,” presented by Penny Lane Pictures, celebrates NY, Pride and good eats, while helping viewers to learn new recipes and engage with members of the community. Recipes include sweet and savories, while guests range from NBC’s Rapheal Miranda to drag performer, Dallas Dubois. Athena Reich, the initial host who won “Best Host” at LA Web Fest for season 1, is an award winning singer/songwriter, actress TV Host / Personality, Lady Gaga impersonator and Arts Educator. Jase Grimm, a professional cook who creates simple and comforting foods that highlight local and organic ingredients, has joined Athena to host the second season.
In anticipation of the wrap party, I asked the hosts a couple of questions about their backgrounds and the show.
Q: How did “The Curious Cook” come about? What is the mission of the show?
Athena: The creator/producer is Samantha Abby. She was throwing a dinner party one night with a few of her lesbian friends. Everyone was in the kitchen, preparing food, munching, chatting and laughing up a storm. She realized then and there she wanted to make a show inspired by that moment and thus The Curious Cook was born. The conversations her and her friends were having were fascinating and she wanted to show that there’s more to the LGBT community than the club scene.
To me the mission is to make creative, delicious appetizers and foods while showcasing leaders in the LGBT community. The show illustrates the diversity of our community — that being gay does not limit who you are in any way.
Jase: I found an ad on Craigslist for a casting call for a co-host for the second season of a GLBT cooking show and was so psyched to audition and get the part!
As the cook of the duo, I would say that the mission of the show is to instruct our viewers on how to make delicious and impressive food at home! But there is definitely an underlying mission of pushing GLBT issues into mainstream culture as well as just celebrating everything queer because it needs to be celebrated.
Q: What are both of your backgrounds? Food and otherwise? Involvement with the LGBTQ community?
Athena: I have always been creative in the kitchen. Growing up my friend and I would invent wild recipes and force our families to taste test. However my main professional work has been as an actress and musician. I work I’m all mediums and am involved in numerous projects. Currently I am in rehearsals for a Lady Gaga tribute show at the Arcadia Theater in Winder, PA on Feb 22 (I play Lady Gaga) and I am one of the writers of HUSH, a play about struggling with fertility and we do our LA workshop premiere on Feb 25 at the Hudson Theater.
I work in comedy, TV, film and theater. Currently I have a gig as a Lady Gaga Impersonator for Lady Gaga International. I have also released 5 albums and my music videos charted #1 on MTV LOGO.
Jase: I was raised in a pretty progressive small town in Iowa, then came out as gay, started the areas first Gay Straight Alliance and then transferred to a performing arts high school in California to try to find a more accepting community. From there I went to culinary school in Chicago and have been cooking ever since.
I’ve been cooking professionally for 7 years in small farm to table bistros, in remote lodges in Alaska, at the Amundsen Scott South Pole Station and now as a freelance party chef here in NYC. I absolutely love food and cooking and sharing my knowledge and skills with my peers.
I live in Hell’s Kitchen which seems to be the new gay Mecca in NYC, so I’m right in the thick of it. I’m still pretty new to the city so right now my involvement in the community is limited to nightlife mostly but I’ve met a lot of amazing folks involved in organizations like Stonewall and the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and I would like to become more active in those sorts of things.
Q: How are the guests chosen?
Athena: We have production meetings and make wish lists. We want to represent LGBT folks in all fields. We start with those we know and move out from there.
Jase: We reach out to popular/influential GLBTQ people in the community through a number of means, but a lot of times they are friends and co-workers of ours and sometimes it’s a matter of a serendipitous meeting.
Q: What would you say is your favorite recipe from the show? Your favorite guest?
Athena: My favorite recipe of Jase’s is his pumpkin Chipotle soup as it was pure creamy heaven and my favorite recipe of mine is my cranberry coconut balls. I make them at home all the time and snack on them throughout the day.
Favorite guest…?? Are you kidding? What are you doing? Trying to give me Sophie’s Choice? But if I HAD to choose I would choose Stephanie Berman only cause anyone who can invent a sex toy that can mimic ejaculation is a winner.
Jase: I think my favorite recipe is the chipotle pumpkin soup with coconut and chocolate. The producers asked me to develop a cute fall themed recipe and I was just wandering through the Union Square Greenmarket and saw the most adorable little pumpkins and the recipe hit me like a brick. It’s sweet and savory and smoky and salty all at the same time.
I absolutely loved having Dallas Dubois on, she has so much energy and is so engaging. I’ve seen her drag shows a million times and knew that she would be great on camera.
Q: Any plans for the future of “The Curious Cook?”
Athena: Our big red carpet wrap party on February 10 at Slate and season 3! Hopefully even a show on network television!
Jase: I can’t really speak on that, other than to say that I would love to continue working on the Curious Cook in any capacity, hopefully returning as a co-host on Season 3!
Q: What would you say sets “The Curious Cook” apart?
Athena: I love cooking shows but I don’t think they crack as many double entendre jokes as we do.
Jase: I think our show is really different from cooking shows on TV because we really try to show our viewers exactly how to recreate our dishes at home AND entertain them with fabulous GLBT guests. Not only is the Curious Cook entertaining but it’s also informative and we’re doing our part to portray our community accurately and really talk about issues that are relevant to all of us.
Q: What would your best piece of advice be or the best advice from a guest on the show?
Athena: I guess my best general advice is to never take anyone’s advice cause no one sees the whole picture except you.
Jase: I think Dallas Dubois had the most meaningful and memorable quote of the season when she spoke out to baby drag queens (but it doesn’t just apply to them) to be themselves and be fearless and express themselves however they know how, which is a lesson I really take to heart.
Q: Why is giving back is important to you?
Athena: I remember watching TV as a teenager and feeling that my story is not represented on sitcoms, talk shows or the news. I felt a passion then to go into entertainment and become a mentor for youth struggling with issues of sexual identity, being a trauma/abuse survivor, or just being different or unique in any way. My mission is to be myself as much as possible and to hopefully empower others to do the same.
Jase: Giving back is important to me because I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of my mentors, peers and charitable organizations. I am in a privileged position and it’s my responsibility to help others that aren’t as well of as I am.
Q: How has giving back helped you?
Athena: It gives me a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Also, a lot of amazing connections and friendships. Sometimes I feel my real job is to have a lot of friends and connect with all kinds of people. I love hearing stories and perspectives from all walks of life. It also gives me a rush to speak publicly about an issue that is normally silenced. It can be something little like talking honestly about what it’s like to be single in your 30′s, or something enormous like talking about how being a sexual abuse survivor can be haunting even into your adult life, or something silly like talking about all the ways that lesbians use dildos in bed. I love shocking the masses with truth. It’s an empowering feeling and it makes me smile.
Jase: Paying it forward is imperative to anyone who is successful because nobody get’s where they are on their own. When I take the time to train a budding cook, donate my time at a holiday dinner for the homeless or mail a check to the HRC I validate myself and my education and all of the hard work I have done to put myself in the position to do so.
Q: How do you incorporate giving back into your life?
Athena: I perform at many fundraisers. Upcoming is our Curious Cook Valentine’s Fundraiser for City Harvest, and in late February I fly to LA to perform in HUSH (a play about infertility) that raises money for the Baby Quest Foundation which awards grants to those undergoing IVF and infertility treatments.
Jase: Right now in my life I don’t have much excess time or money but what I do have is access to food. When I finish a catering event I’m sure to collect as many leftovers (that would otherwise be thrown away) and offer them to anyone less fortunate than I that I might see along my way home. The catering companies I work for also work with food rescue organizations to provide food for those in need.
Q:Which charities are near and dear to you and why?
Athena: Baby Quest is near and dear to me because I am undergoing infertility treatments myself. I understand the pain of having roadblocks on the path to parenthood, and I don’t believe that rich people should be the only ones who can afford treatment.
Jase: I had the opportunity to be involved in the filming of The Normal Heart this past summer which chronicles the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in the 80s and it really got me interested in the organization and it’s efforts. My partner and I have supported them financially and also have many friends who donate their time to fundraising activities like the one we attended this last summer on Fire Island.
Q:When it comes to your own philanthropic efforts, what do you look back and feel made the largest impact on those that you set out to help?
Athena: I am particularly proud of our work on HUSH. Infertility is something that people simply don’t talk about. It’s harder for me to be out of the closet about my struggles with infertility than it is for me to be out as a lesbian because of the things people say to me on a daily basis…. “You just need to relax and it will happen”, “Why don’t you just adopt?”, “My friend was 50 when she got pregnant… you will be fine…” — (when in fact this friend more than likely got pregnant with a donor egg after hundreds of thousands later.) Those of us struggling with infertility feel very silenced by these comments. When we premiered HUSH at the Player’s Club in NYC we were floored that with little advertisement the event was completely sold out. We are now being flown out to LA for a fundraising performance at the Hudson Theater on Feb 25th.
Jase: I’d day the single largest impact I’ve made would be establishing the Gay Straight Alliance in my hometown at the Decorah High School. When I came out as gay when I was just a freshman there, there was no support system or group there and I saw a need and filled it. It started out as just myself, my best friend Toast and our teacher/sponsor but has blossomed into a large organization with dozens of active members and a tangible impact on the school community.