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Exclusive Interview With Katie Lee

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One of the stars of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, Katie Lee is heading to Miami in two weeks to start whipping up some of her signature Southern-flavored recipes. The gorgeous cookbook author (she has two tomes out) and former wife of crooner Billy Joel, Katie Lee is a culinary force to be reckoned with. The West Virginia native shares her thoughts on comfort food, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival and the perfect Valentine's Day menu with Short Order.

New Times: Tell me about your second cookbook, The Comfort Table: Recipes for Everyday Occasions.

Katie Lee: The cookbook has a lot to do with my personality. I love to entertain, and I love having my friends over to my house. It doesn't have to be a special occasion. I look for those little everyday things in life. It can be anything from a fall harvest dinner to having girlfriends over for breakfast to rehash the night before. This book is broken down into menus. When I went on my first book tour, people kept telling me that they liked to cook but they didn't know how to put a meal together. I thought it would be good to do a book in menus. That way you have your appetizer, entrée, sides and dessert all in one place. I also added a cocktail for each menu, wine suggestions and a playlist of songs that go along with the theme of the meal. Start to finish you've got your whole party.

NT: What are some of your favorite holidays?

KL: My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. It's just about eating. And I love making a turkey. You don't have the pressure of buying gifts. I also love the Fourth of July. It's about summertime, fireworks and handing out sparklers to your friends.

NT: Valentine's Day is coming up. What are some of your recipes for this holiday?

KL: I have a Romantic Dinner for Two chapter in my book. For Valentine's Day, you're best to eat a lighter meal. If you eat something big and heavy, you may not feel like doing anything else afterward. I do oysters on the half-shell, which is a nice, light hors d'oeuvre. Oysters are supposed to be an aphrodisiac. I like to cook fish because it's light. I do a sole meuniere, which is still a luxury because of the buttery flavor and the way it's prepared. I do it with herb-roasted potatoes and green beans. It's a simple meal. It makes me think of being in Paris, which is the most romantic city in the world.

NT: There's got to be chocolate, too.

KL: Of course, there has to be chocolate. For dessert I do individual chocolate parfaits. Having something in individual portions feels very special. I do a rich chocolate pudding and an amaretto cream and crush up some chocolate wafer cookies. Chocolate is a must whenever you are having a romantic dinner.

NT: How will you be spending Valentine's Day?

KL: I actually have Valentine's Day plans with my girlfriend Ann. She and I are going to the Hamptons for the weekend and we are taking my dog. I'm really excited.

NT: What did you learn from the first time around with your cookbook?

KL: People want things to be super explained. They do want simple food. People told me they like easier recipes. My first book was all the simple classics like meatloaf and chicken and dumplings. The second book one is more updated and modern. There still is comfort food, but I have a recipe for Orange Beef, for example. That is total comfort food to me.

NT: The last time we spoke, you mentioned your famous fried chicken recipe. It is in the new cookbook?

KL: Yes, it's in the second book in the Sunday Supper chapter. Aside from Thanksgiving, fried chicken is my very favorite thing to make.

NT: What is the secret to your fried chicken?

KL: I marinate the chicken first in buttermilk and hot sauce. The other secret is that I put garlic powder in the flour. I fry it and finish it in the oven. It's not fried the entire time in the oil. The blast of the hot oven temperature crisps it up at the end.

NT: You are coming to Miami in two weeks for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival.

KL: I love the Festival. I'm doing a few cooking demos. They added a new cocktail tent, and I'm doing a cocktail demo. I'm doing all retro cocktails that have been updated with a modern twist. I do a gimlet but I add Lillet and frozen kiwi to it. Lillet is a sweet white wine aperitif. There's always that one liquor that is the thing you are going to see on drink menus a lot this summer. This summer it's going to be Lillet. It's super refreshing and has floral notes. It's great over ice with a splash of club soda.

NT: You are not doing Burger Bash this year. Why not?

KL: I've retired from the Burger Bash. I loved doing it, but I wanted to do something different. This year, I'm doing Paula Deen's Kiss My Grits brunch. It's nice to participate in a new event.

NT: What are you doing for Paula Deen's brunch?

KL: I'm doing my Nutella Banana French Toast Casserole. It's one of the most popular recipes in this new cookbook, just from what people Twitter and Facebook me. People are always Tweeting me and telling me that they are making that French Toast Casserole. I came up with the recipe because whenever you cook French toast or pancakes for your family or friends, you're stuck at the stove. You don't get to sit down and eat with everybody. With this French Toast Casserole, you can make the casserole in advance. You stick it in the fridge overnight and the first person who gets up in the morning puts it in the oven. It goes in for an hour and the whole house smells good. It's a super-decadent recipe and Paula Deen is the queen of decadence, so I figured it would be a fitting dish to make for her brunch. I actually made this for her once when I was developing the recipe. I was thinking of it as a dessert. I topped it with hazelnut ice cream and hot fudge sauce. She actually picked up the plate and licked it. I thought that was a good sign.

NT: What are you most looking forward to for this year's SBWFF?

KL: Seeing all the other chefs. It's like a reunion once a year for us. We're all in the same place and we get to hang out in the sun and eat some really good food. I better start working out now.

NT: What is currently inspiring you?

KL: Healthier food. I eat fattening food a lot because I just love it. I'm trying to eat more vegetables and be more plant-based. I'm trying to do one day a week without any meat. It's a challenge.

NT: Speaking of meat, are you still doing the burger restaurant in New York?

KL: I put that on hold. It was an idea I was interested in, but then I wanted to focus on some other things. With a restaurant, all of your time and effort needs to go toward that.

NT: How do you handle the media attention?

KL: Honestly, I don't read anything. I don't Google myself. There can be something lovely written about you and that makes you feel good. If there are ten nice things and one mean thing, you think about the mean one. I try to not introduce that into my life. You don't need the negativity.

NT: You are in Miami often. What are your favorite restaurants here?

KL: I love Macaluso's. That's always the first place I go because I have to have a meatball and chicken parm. I love Michael's Genuine. I ate there on the last trip. I love Michael Schwartz's food. And Hedy Goldsmith, the pastry chef, is off the charts. I always save room for dessert there. Last time, she sent me home with a bag of cookies and biscotti. I was so happy.

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