Galloping Gourmet wants a low-key life

Veteran cooking personality Graham Kerr has a new cookbook out, but does not want a big release party or to tour or speak on television

NEW YORK • Graham Kerr, the Galloping Gourmet, perfected his recipe to dish out entertainment on food television 50 years ago from his wife.

Labelled "the high priest of hedonism", he even received a Broken Spoon Award from Weight Watchers International for the "dangerous" excess of his CBS hit.

But he abandoned that butter-and-cream persona when he ended the show in 1971.

For decades after, his life followed new scripts - low-fat regimens, flavour-forward cooking and vegetable gardening.

Now 84, he is still a master of the human connection - as shown on a recent day when he came out of the kitchen at his home near Seattle, balancing a platter of soup bowls.

"Let me know who is vegan," he said, serving college students visiting for a gardening project.

The new cookbook.
The new cookbook. PHOTO: RIZZOLI

Most of the 30-odd visitors had not heard of Kerr. Their parents and grandparents were more excited to hear about the day's plans.

But the students were as focused as any studio audience, discussing goals and leaving with hugs and dreams of making the world a better place. That is the kind of one-on-one impact that matters to him now.

"I know what it is to have been big and I know what it is to be me. And I really prefer to be me," he said.

So why is a Galloping Gourmet cookbook coming out this month, if he does not crave the spotlight? The Graham Kerr Cookbook came out in 1969 at the height of his fame.

It turns out that publisher Ted Lee had selected it for a Rizzoli imprint of vintage treasures. "We kept finding Kerr was a touchstone for so many people as an educator, not just as an entertainer," he said.

Kerr was raised in Britain, son of hotel managers and an only child. "I had to play somewhere, so I got to play in the kitchen," he said.

He wrote in his 2015 memoir Flash Of Joy that, at 11, he fell for a 10-year-old with "a face that shone with joy". He and Treena married when he was 21.

He studied hotel management and served in the British army catering corps. He briefly managed the Royal Ascot hotel before becoming chief catering adviser for the New Zealand Air Force.

Commercial TV was just getting its start in the country and he was asked to cook eggs on a talk show.

That led to his own show, Eggs With Flight Lieutenant Kerr, but Treena, a trained actor, found his performance dull. Soon, he was rehearsing before her thespian pals.

The couple relocated to Canada after he got an offer. Treena became his Emmy-nominated producer on The Galloping Gourmet, adding laughs and snappy signatures such as his leaping entry.

Kerr's combination of food and entertainment was immediately pegged as a new phenomenon, and his style paved the way for today's stars, Kathleen Collins wrote in the 2009 book, Watching What We Eat.

Julia Child's show aired in the United States six years ahead of Kerr's and they both tapped the cultural shift that made people view eating as an experience.

"Julia made gourmet cooking feasible and Graham made it fun," Collins said.

The Galloping Gourmet show ended after just three years, when Graham and his wife were badly injured in a car crash. They relinquished rights to the franchise in a dispute over religious references in their TV credits. Treena went on to produce hundreds of other TV episodes: The Graham Kerr Show and Graham Kerr's Kitchen.

Her health issues - a heart attack and a stroke - inspired him to plug "Minimax" cooking, minimising fat and cholesterol and maximising good things.

After she died in 2015, he shut down his website and recorded personal videos about living life alone.

On the day the students visited, he told them how the re-issue of the 1969 book meant so much to him, but he did not want to go to New York for a big release party.

He did not want to tour or speak on TV. "I would like this to be the formal launch of the book," he told them. "I want it to nourish people and I want it to delight people, and I can't think of anybody's company I would rather be in the moment than yours."

Once again, for Kerr, applause filled the room.

WASHINGTON POST

• The Graham Kerr Cookbook: By The Galloping Gourmet (US$19.79 or S$26) is available at Amazon.com.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 14, 2018, with the headline 'Galloping Gourmet wants a low-key life'. Print Edition | Subscribe