As the host of “Moveable Feast With Relish,” Native Angeleno, Alexandra Thomopolous got to immerse herself in New England to do things like going cranberry bogging; and she got to see a side of New England most people don’t get to see ,through food. Create TV and KLCS Public Media viewers were along for the ride as they watched local chefs create from local produce grown and made. Alexandra talks to KLCS about how she got to be the host, her path to food, her favorite places to dine and food shop at in her hometown, and how they filmed the show’s famous group dinners, the feasts, during a pandemic.
Alexandra, recently, we interviewed Curtis Stone, another host of Moveable Feast; it seems like a show that has rotating hosts. How did you become a host on this show?
I was actually a guest chef Season 6 in the San Luis Obispo episode and the host was Pete Evans at the time. And I think I just charmed the pants off of everybody. I hosted two seasons of my own show a while back. My background really is in standup comedy, acting and then I became a chef and so it just felt like a very natural thing for me to do and they asked me to co-host with Pete Season 7 and then last season was the first time I was hosting by myself and I think the other half of the season they repurposed some episodes of Curtis.
You got to do all your episodes in New England – Boston, Martha’s Vineyard, as a native Angeleno how was that, to be able to really immerse into New England’s chef scene for the show?
It was incredible. I’ve always loved it back East, but I’ve never really been able to experience it the way that I got to doing the show. And we were there during a peak season, during leaf peaking season and it was just so breathtaking. The food was amazing, the people really were so warm and inviting and proud not only of the ingredients grown in New England, which was really surprising for me because obviously as a native Angeleno, we’re really spoiled when it comes to produce and great seafood, [but] being on the other side of the country and getting to experience things like cranberry season and squash season. And we went picking for pears and apples and all of this produce that, sure we have access to in L.A., but really to get to see them in their native land and growing and the corn that we did with chef David Vargas was amazing and we got to see how he transformed the New England corn into tortillas. So, it really, for me, was just such a treat and I cannot wait, like literally cannot to go back there.
Do you have plans to go back there?
Not at the moment because of Covid, but eventually I’d love to go back.
You mentioned being a comedian, so, what was your path to being a chef and what made you originally want to cook on TV?
The director of my first cooking show that was on YouTube was directing a few episodes of “Moveable Feast” and when they were in California, she reached out to me and said, “Do you want to be a guest chef?”; I had never seen the show before and then I watched the show and I said, “Absolutely, I would love to!” And the rest is history. But I’ve always cooked, my mother is a fantastic chef and food was always really the center of our house and every day we sat around the dinner table. I didn’t really start wanting to start cook until I was 12 or 13, but I spent a good majority of my childhood watching food television, watching Jacques Pepin and Julia Child and when Emeril came along and the Food Network really started to become a thing, most kids watched Saturday morning cartoons and I watched the Food Network. When I was 12 or 13, I really took an interest in being in the kitchen with my mom and then I started taking over dinnertime and cooking for her. And like any struggling standup comedian, I was really trying to figure a way to make money and I was waiting tables and I was working in night clubs. I started cooking on the side on my days off and I really found a passion and a love for it. I started doing these dinner parties that kind of got a little bit of buzz, or attention. From there, I built a catering company and I went to culinary school and I really took my cooking really seriously. And I thought, “Well, if the standup thing doesn’t work out, I definitely can fall back and be a chef.” So I opened a catering business, I did that for 10 years and simultaneously I’ve always been a natural born entertainer, that’s where my heart is, and I was actively pursing the food entertainment side of the business as well; and just slowly built my career over last decade.
What’s the most frequent question you get from viewers, and your answer?
Do you get recognized from the show now?
Sometimes. Sometimes I’ll be at the market and somebody will go, “Movable Feast!” I’ll go, “Yeah! Hey!” One thing that I’m really surprised by is the audience of the show. The demographics is so vast and diverse, from age to race. And everybody who’s written me says how much they love the show, how much they love watching it. It’s like a little mini vacation when they watch it. And to me that is the biggest compliment, if as a host you can take the audience on a journey and make them feel good and inspired and excited to travel again. I couldn’t ask for anything better. To answer your original question, “What’s the one thing you get asked the most?” And that’s how I made the transition from comedy into food. I really do believe that making someone laugh and making somebody a plate of food, evokes the same emotions in people. It’s like a joy and a comfort that you can give to somebody, that I feel that when I’m doing both at the same time or I’m doing one individually, I’m completely, contently happy when I can make other people happy.
You get that feedback that the show is like an escape or a quiet moment in someone’s day?
Yes, that’s one of the most frequent messages that I get, that they feel like they’ve gone on a little mini vacation. It’s an escapism, especially now, we’ve all gone through a very traumatic last two years and we’re still in it and I think that this show really brings just the right ounce of joy to people’s day. And what I love so much about the show, and what I’ve been able to do as just a personality, I really have the freedom to be myself, and as a female in the culinary space, especially in food television, they’re always trying to get you to be this picture perfect personality. What I love so much about this show is everybody from the producers to the directors, were just like, “Be yourself, crack the jokes you want to crack, connect with the people that you want to connect with” and I think it shows on camera just what a good time everybody was having, just because the pressure was off; and I think that’s what people are really drawn to with the show. It feels like you’re hanging out with your friends.
How did you record the show in 2020, because some people wore masks and tables were farther away; is that how your production team dealt with it?
Yes. It was definitely a challenge. Everybody was tested before production and all of the meals were served outside. In past seasons, there were a lot more people present at the feasts, this season you had to know the people that you were sitting with and feel comfortable. So, we had little production hurdles to conquer, but we managed to get through the whole season where nobody got Covid, so that was a win for all of us.
Is there a season planned for this year?
From what I’ve heard, yes, but we don’t know exactly when, but yes, we’re hoping for a Season 9. I can’t wait, it’s my favorite time of year. It’s like Christmas for me.
What do you do when you’re not on the show?
I’m a full time chef and a fulltime writer. I’m a comedy writer and I’m also an actor. I do a lot. I write for different people, for myself, all of that.
It looks like fun to create these dinners in locales around the country with locally grown food, what keeps you going? I assume just being on the show makes you want to do it more?
Yes I’m naturally very curious, I love to travel, I love to explore, I love to meet new people and really learn about where they come from, and a lot of where they come from you learn by the food they create. Just as an example, we had so many chefs this season whose stories were just really rich and fascinating, and their food-journey was not only told verbally but also on the plates that they serve, like David Vargas and Will Myska in the Portsmouth, New Hampshire episode. They had great stories and great backstories; and the food that they’re creating in Maine is not typical, native New England food, but they were able to take their history and their family history and put it on a plate and serve it to the people of New England, using New England ingredients and it was just such an incredible opportunity and experience to have, to not only get to know about these two individuals, but also the food that’s being grown in New England and how versatile it really is..
I remember that episode; it was interesting because you don’t really see someone making fresh tortillas in New England.
No, especially with the heirloom corn that was grown there.
What is your favorite go-to dish that is easy and healthy?
I’m a creature of habit, I usually eat white rice, steamed broccoli and salmon that I bake with coconut aminos and sesame oil about two to three times a week. I love adding a bunch of Thai chilies on top.
So far everyone has had a Julia Child story, whether she influenced them, or if they met her. You did mention watching her, so would that be your Julia story?
Yeah. Her and my mother are the ones that taught me to cook, and Jacques Pepin.
I love his show, it’s still rerun on Create.
It’s so great!
Do ever just pinch yourself you get to do this for a living and follow in those footsteps of educating people about cooking on TV?
I do. When you’re in it, it’s really hard because we’re working 16 hours a day and we’re shooting in such a short time frame and there’s part of me that wants it to slow down simply because I want to savor every bite and every moment. And I think that’s the downside of food television, is that you get to create these beautiful memories but you don’t really get to savor them yourself because you’re constantly on to the next thing, and the next thing. But other than that, everyday I wake up and I have all this energy and excitement because literally I’m living my dream.
What’s the favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of the job is cooking with the chefs and picking up new techniques and using new ingredients. I remember the episode with Chef Jamie Bissonnette, who is a friend of mine and who I had known previous to the show. Before I knew him, I was super intimidated by him. He was one of the best chefs in the country and he’s really into the hardcore punk scene in Boston; his talent is intimidating and to be able to cook side by side with somebody like that and to have him be so warm and inviting and educational, he’s so passionate about what he does and the ingredients that he was using and how he was marrying favors. And, he taught me how to cut green papaya. I always sliced green papaya on a mandolin, but he taught me to do it the way they do it in Thailand in the street carts with a knife and taught me how not to cut myself. That’s the best part of my job – is to be able to stand side by side with some of my culinary heroes and be able to cook with them and have a conversation with them.
Since you’re the first chef in this interview series that is actually from L.A. and lives in L.A., you may have a lot of answers to this – what are some favorite places to dine and food shop here?
There’s so many. My favorite place to shop is definitely the farmers markets because they’re so abundant. No matter where you live in L.A. you can find one, which is great. I love that they’re doing Smorgasburg down in downtown L.A. where it’s small food brands and restaurants are able to be a part of this weekly food festival, where you can go and try a bunch of different flavors and dishes that you normally wouldn’t get in a normal restaurant. The best bagel I’ve had in L.A. is Courage Bagel. Everybody said, “Oh it’s the best bagel in the country, it’s the best bagel.” Everybody from New York says, “Oh my God, this bagel is better than a New York bagel.” I kind of rolled my eyes, “How good could this bagel be?” And honestly, one bite, it won’t even hit your mouth before you know instantly, “This is the best bagel I’ve ever had.” My favorite food cuisine to eat is Vietnamese and Thai. My favorite Thai restaurant in L.A. is called Luv2 Eat, in Hollywood, fantastic authentic Thai food; and I love going to Little Saigon, a restaurant called Quan Hy. And, also, Playa Provisions. There’s so many great restaurants. I’m kind of a creature of habit unfortunately. Those are the ones that really stand out to me.
Anything you want to add to KLCS viewers/readers?
Thanks for watching the show and liking the show and I can’t wait to do more.!