“Spicy” and “stewed” aren’t two words that come to mind when one thinks of Valerie Bertinelli, but the terms might be applied more readily as the actress gets to work in the kitchen.
When she was married to guitar-slinger Eddie Van Halen, Bertinelli would sometimes find herself making the Dutch and Indonesian cuisine taught to her by his mother – dishes that rely on piquant sauces or braised meats. “I’ve learned a few things from her that I’ve put in my repertoire,” she said in a recent interview.
What Valerie Bertinelli eats for breakfast, lunch or dinner was never of much concern when she held forth in beloved TV series like CBS’ “One Day at a Time” or TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland.” Now her menus are likely to gain greater scrutiny starting this weekend when she launches “Valerie’s Home Cooking,” a new series on Food Network that will provide home-cooking recipes fit for gatherings of family or friends. Bertinelli’s co-stars from “Hot in Cleveland” – Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick and Betty White – will join her for Italian tuna salad on the 10-episode series’ debut this Saturday at 12 noon eastern.
“It’s a little unexpected that I would be doing it,” said Bertinelli. “A lot of people don’t know how much I love to cook. I’ve talked about it here and there. I really have a passion for it.” Indeed, she is the author of “One Dish at a Time” (longtime fans should get the obvious reference), which presents food from her Italian-American childhood.
At Food Network – and other cable outlets owned by Scripps Networks Interactive – celebrities like Bertinelli are turning up in all sorts of unexpected places. The company’s DIY home-repair network has generated headlines by granting series to everyone from William Shatner to Vanilla Ice to Mr. T.
Food Network is simply making more use of the corporate recipe, suggested Allen Salkin, author of “From Scratch: The Uncensored History of the Food Network.” He sees the outlet backing away from trying to transform relative unknowns into celebrity chefs, and relying more heavily on celebrities and famous folk who can lure an already passionate fanbase to the outlet’s flavorful video offerings. Food Network once “took nobodies and made them household names, from Paula Deen to Giada diLaurentiis to Sandra Lee to Ina Garten, the ‘Barefoot Contessa,’” Salkin explained.
That trick has become harder to pull off, he said, citing ratings declines across cable and a new prevalence of cooking programs that may have the general public tired of old recipes. One of Food Network’s most successful daytime programs features country singer Trisha Yearwood. “This formula is showing that it at least creates a floor,” said Salkin. “Everyone wants a cooking show, and so if you offer a lot of celebrities a chance to spend a month of their life creating a 13-episode season, they will do it,” he added.
Food Network may be on the hunt for new ingredients for its programming stew. Operating revenues at the outlet have dipped 2.5% for the first six months of 2015, according to Scripps’ second-quarter earnings disclosure, to $445.4 million from about $457 million. Operating revenues in the second quarter fell 4.2%.
Bertinelli approached Food Network on her own, she recalled, and is a regular watcher of its shows. “I love Giada. I love Ina,” the actress said. She didn’t worry about messing up on camera, noting that “there’s no such thing as perfect in the kitchen.” Bertinelli did have to add something to her on-set demeanor: learning how to talk right to the camera a little more.
Executives at the outlet have spent time making audiences more familiar with her, said Bob Tuschman, general manager and senior vice president at Food Network, in responses provided by email. Since the cable network first announced it would do a project with Bertinelli in April of 2014, she has surfaced on programs like “Kids Baking Championship’ and “Guilty Pleasures,” so programmers could “introduce her into the Food Network family while we were readying her cooking show team,” Tuschman said. Her appearances tended to coincide, he added, with breaks in the production of “Hot in Cleveland.”
Audiences still flock to celebrity chefs, Tuschman said, though he sees a need for a diversity of personalities on the network. “We are always looking to expand our offerings to our viewers. The best cooking teachers on television can be bestselling cookbook authors, home cooks, celebrity chefs or celebrities,” he said. “We want our air overflowing with the widest possible mix.”
Some people might tune in to gawk at the woman who played Barbara Cooper during an earlier part of their TV-watching lives fix baked salmon with honey mustard sauce; blueberry smoothies and cherry coconut “scuffins”; or barbecued chicken kabobs with tequila-lime cilantro. Tuschman doesn’t see any sort of “fish out of water” element to the program. Bertinelli “couldn’t be more at home,” he noted.
Bertinelli’s new focus is on her program and the things she can share with viewers. While “I’m always keeping my eyes open for another sitcom,” she said, she knows she’s been fortunate with the success she’s already had. Now it’s time to trade family recipes and other tips. “I hope that what people take away this is – as much as we look up to these amazing women on Food Network – if I can do it, you can do it too.”