Valerie Bertinelli On Duff Goldman, Starting A Cooking Career, And Her Next Projects - Exclusive Interview

It feels like Valerie Bertinelli has done it all. According to Food Network, the star has claimed a Hollywood Walk of Fame Star, won Emmys, authored cookbooks, and has hosted a variety of shows like "Valerie's Home Cooking" or "Kids Baking Championship." Over the years, Bertinelli has found her way from being an actress to morphing into a well-renowned authority, partially thanks to her spotlight segment on "The Today Show." While this personality may seem larger-than-life, Bertinelli has found ways to approach food and life in very relatable ways.

The star's website offers personal notes to fans, in addition to containing a ton of recipes to share with readers. This down-to-earth approach has helped Bertinelli shine over the years and helped position her as a great on-air cooking resource. Mashed had the chance to sit down with the star for an exclusive interview, and she discussed how her evolving relationship with food over the years, her experience working alongside Duff Goldman on the set of "Kids Baking Championship," and some of her plans she has in store for fans.

Bertinelli's early relationship with food

How did [your experience as an actress] shape you as a cook, as a food personality, and your relationship with food?

Well, I actually started cooking long before I started acting and I started acting at 12. Cooking — and food, and showing love through food — is something that I grew up in. In an Italian family, watching my Noni — basically her kitchen was her office. It was a big, huge part of me, and then, watching the way you get treated, depending on what weight you are, changed my relationship with food for a while, unfortunately. I didn't have a great relationship with food. I thought it was the enemy, and it's not. Now, coming full circle back to enjoying food and enjoying serving it and creating it and showing people how I love them, that's my love language — it's cooking for people. It's really been a beautiful, full circle moment.

I'm so glad that I've spent it here. I had to go through a lot of stuff, getting through, from a young age, learning this kid's lie — that gaining weight makes you unlovable. I believed that for way, way too long. Every time I would gain an ounce, I would be unlovable, and so that made every number on the scale not sufficient for me. Every number was, no matter how low it was, it wasn't low enough, and when it was high, I was like, "oh, that's it. I am a horrible person, no one's going to like me. This is ugly. I don't want people to see me." It's just no way to live.

Bertinelli's favorite meals to cook

I'm at a point in my life where, yes, I would love to learn so that it makes it easier to climb the stairs to go to bed, and I think as long as I start and continue to take care of my mental health and my emotional health, my body will eventually follow along because I still eat healthy things. I try to eat more vegetables and fruit and drink less alcohol and eat less sugar because I don't like the way they make me feel the next morning. I'm hoping that by taking care of my mental health, my body will follow along. We'll see.

Have you found an all time favorite recipe to cook?

Oh God. So many, and it really depends on the mood, or who I'm cooking for. One of the last meals I ever made for Ed [Van Halen] was Banh Mi, which he absolutely loved. That made me so happy because he loved it and it made him happy because he hadn't had it in so long. I love making soup now that we're in the middle of winter because Wolfie loves soup, and I'm finding different ways to cook with it and different flavors. I just love creating.

Bertinelli's transition to cookbook author

What was it like to work in the confines of writing and taking those experiences of working with the public and then translating that over to something so personal, like a cookbook?

There's totally different things in doing the show and developing recipes for the show, and then I'm actually writing a new cookbook right now. I'm just starting it. Hopefully, it'll be out next year if I can finish it in time. That's the fun part — developing the recipes and thinking about the flavors that I want to share with people, and hoping that they will love [them]. They're different animals, but both so much fun and just like doing the show. When I first started doing "Valerie's Home Cooking," it was a challenge for me because I thought, well, I know where cameras are, I know how to work with cameras, it's been a dream, since I was 12.

I know how to cook because [I've been] doing that longer, but how do I cook for the camera and let people know through that camera, the audience watching, how do I teach them the process that I know, that will make their life easier in the kitchen? Trying to get through that was a little bit of a challenge, but I think I have it down now.

Bertinelli's least favorite kitchen skills

Was there anything that you ever wanted to cook or include in a cookbook that just didn't make the cut?

I think there are certain techniques that I'm just probably never going to ... I'm trying to think of something. I know that the first time I made pâte à choux, it wasn't a success. Some things are a little bit more of a challenge to make, and I'm willing to try anything though. I think it's fun to experiment.

Yeah. Do you have any techniques that you particularly are drawn to?

I'm not great at speed slicing or speed dicing, so I don't feel like showing off my knife skills that I don't have, but I admire people that can slice and dice so quickly. Going to Benihana and watching them work is phenomenal. It's a show, and that's not me. I'm slow and steady. This is why I also never really compete in any cooking shows because I'm happy to judge, because I love to taste the food, but time is not my friend in the kitchen. I'm still trying to develop the Thanksgiving day [method], where everything comes out at the same time. I still don't. I don't have that down yet.

Working alongside Duff Goldman

You worked alongside Duff Goldman on "Kids Baking Championship." What was your favorite part of being on that show?

Oh, just watching the children create. They're so amazing, and watching that process, and work through a problem, is really great to see in such young kids. That we don't give enough credit, I think sometimes. We think, oh, they're a kid, they don't know any better. They're, oh my God, they're these little human beings that really process things and, and can work through problems. I mean, yeah I think it's emotional and I'm always there for a shoulder to cry on, but it's just fun watching children grow.

I imagine it was also fun to work along Duff Goldman.

I adore Duff. I just love him, and the last season was so much fun because we shot in Knoxville, Tennessee, and he brought his beautiful wife Johnna and his baby Josephine. So, I got to see Josephine a lot. Oh my God, what a sweet baby. A Gerber baby, if there ever was one — so, so sweet.

Bertinelli's favorite Duff Goldman memories

Do you have any good Duff Goldman stories or any moments that stand out?

Well, when we were shooting in New Orleans, we would get storms [coming] through all the time. That's what happens in August, like huge rain storms, and then it stops, and he would have a barbecue outside of his trailer and he would have to put a tarp over it because he would be barbecuing and all of a sudden these storms would come through, but he makes the most amazing meals. He's an amazing chef, not just an amazing baker, but he's an amazing chef.

I imagine that some of those experiences also parallel what you did on the "Today Show" with Start Today, right?

Yeah. That's a little bit different because when it's live, and you're a cook doing a cooking demo for live television, I sometimes feel like I'm speeding it through and no one's learning anything, but I'm grateful that the recipes are always put up online. That's always fun because I love all of the hosts over there on "The Today Show," and cooking for them makes me so happy, and they love it too, thankfully. I can't wait to get back in the kitchen over there. I haven't been in New York for two years and I miss it. Miss it terribly.

An important lesson from television cooking

Did that experience on the "Today Show" influence the way that you now approach cooking?

That's a great question because I think it has in a way, and I didn't even realize it. Trying to figure out ways to make your life in the kitchen go a little bit more smoothly and quickly and not being so precious with things because you just want to get everybody in the country, they just want to get dinner on the table, and they want to, it's easy and less clean up that we can do. I think that has taught me a little bit about that, trying to use less pans and pots and less things to clean up at the end of a cooking session.

Sometimes it's easier, instead of all the slicing and dicing, because I think mise en place is extremely important, so you have everything ready to go and you're not waiting on something. I've made that mistake too many times. I didn't mise en place everything, and then I'd be in the middle of a certain step of a recipe and I have to go back and chop something and then something else gets ruined because of that, because it's on the stove too long. When we come to mise en place, you can just keep everything on the cutting board. You don't have to dirty a dish by putting it in there.

Bertinelli's favorite ingredient

Have you found that there's one ingredient that you can't live without?

One ingredient I can't live without [besides salt and pepper]? I think lemon. I know people make fun of me because I love lemon so much, but they can be used in so many different ways, through savory sweets, in libations. It's such a versatile fruit. My favorite dressing is lemon, olive oil, shallots, and salt and pepper. It's just so good.

Do you have a food bucket list at all of restaurants to visit, or meals to make?

I have a bucket list of places I want to go back to. There's just this place in Florence. And luckily I'm going to go back because we're going to shoot some shows in Italy this summer. And there's a place in Florence called Sostanza and they make the most ridiculous buttered chicken. It's just so good. My mouth is watering, just thinking about it. And that's why I thought it was important that I put a few recipes in my new book because I just wanted to reaffirm my love for food, and sharing it, and where I've come back from, and what I've gone through to get back here.

Do you have one chef that you wish could cook you dinner at this point in time?

Oh, I wish Julia Child. I mean wouldn't that be fun to learn from her, and cook with her, and to be served a dish from her?

Bertinelli's go-to fast food order

Why Julia Child, out of everybody, living or dead?

Because she was so creative in, again, teaching people how to cook and that it is possible that anybody can cook if you just give yourself the amount of time to learn a few basic things in the kitchen. You can also go as far as her where she knows how to debone duck and chicken, and I don't want to do all that, but I do want to know the flavors that she plays with.

And then on the complete opposite end of the spectrum you have a go-to fast food order?

Oh, yeah I love a Filet-O-Fish from McDonald's. I've always loved the Filet-O-Fish. Ed loved them too. If I find myself near a McDonald's and I'm hungry, I want a Filet-O-Fish. I tried Popeye's in Louisiana where, I think that's where it first started, when it was really nice and spicy before. That's good too, but I got to come back to a Filet-O-Fish. That's so good.

Bertinelli's next food project

I was wondering if you could share if you have any upcoming food plans or projects coming up?

I'm going to do another season of "Valerie's Home Cooking." I'm meeting with my culinary producer next week, and I'm going to be going to Italy to shoot three or four episodes of trying to find my roots, and my family, and all the places I've wanted to visit, or go back to, starting in Lanzo Torinese, where my great-grandmother sold gelato, in a cart on the street, to save enough money to come to America. Then, [I'll] work my way down to Pompeii, where I've always [wanted] to go.

Do you also have family records and know exactly where in the city, or generally, where she had the gelato cart?

I have that, and also, my grandfather was not far from Perugia, which I believe is the chocolate capital of Italy, so I want to get by there too. We're going to shoot that in May, so I don't know when they're going to air that, but that'll be on Discovery+.

Make sure to keep an eye out for Bertinelli's new upcoming series on Discovery+ and in the meantime, catch her alongside Duff Goldman on "Kids Baking Championship." on The Food Network.