Full Exclusive interview with Joanne Weir

We first spoke to San Francisco-based host and chef Joanne Weir months before the pandemic. Since then, the longtime KQED host, whose cooking show airs on CreateTV, has had many changes, including moving to a new station; so, it was a good time to catch up. Joanne shares what it’s been like since 2020, the new version of the show she’s about to record, called “Around the Table,” and how she stays slim despite eating all over the world for her job.

Joanne, I was excited to reconnect with you since so much has changed since we last spoke. What’s new?
I’ve been working with KQED for the last 22 years and I decided to change networks, I’m going to be working with NorCal Public Television. I’m very excited about this change. I like it so much because there’s a ton of interaction between me and the station and a ton of support. I really love the people, and the CEO, and also the president, CFO. They have produced television, so they’re really aware what I’m doing. I’m excited. I filmed a lot in Europe and I’m going to film in California. I’m excited to film in California; I’m going to film in wine country. I’m going back to doing what I did in the beginning, filming wine country, but it’s going to be much more – a lot of stories, about people, their work, so it’s going to include wine makers and artisans, just really interesting stories about people. But then, of course, food and wine come into play in it. I’m going to film mostly in Sonoma because there’s so much agriculture and wine making. I’m excited about it.

When are you going?
I’m going scouting tomorrow up there. We’ll be filming when I get back from Europe. I get back on the 18th of October. I’m gone for almost two months. When I get back, we’ll be doing the filming and a lot of pre-production.

What are you doing in Europe, is that your food tour?
Yes. My best friend has a beautiful villa in Tuscany, I used her villa for one of my tours, and so she is doing a really high-end wedding for two people and they’re bringing in a wedding designer. And, she really she wants to make sure the food is really exceptional, so I’m going to go and help her with the food. So, I’m going early and then do some traveling with her and then begin my tours on the island of Syros in Greece and also I will be in Rioja in the northern part of Spain and on the island of Majorca. Yes, I’m continuing my tours. I love them. I love, love doing those.

You just came back from Europe, was that for the tour or show?
I actually took a vacation! I went to Stockholm, and Copenhagen, which I absolutely loved and ate at Noma, which I’d always wanted to eat at. And, also spent a week in London. I visited my stepdaughter and I also visited my niece who plays professional soccer, they call it football, in England. She made two goals in the first 15 minutes; I was so excited. She did them just for me, Auntie Jo.

Since we last spoke, have you filmed a new season?
We finished 52 shows that were called “Plates and Places” and those are still airing. Those were filmed mostly in Europe, Morocco, along the Danube, the Rhine River, Spain, Italy, Greece. It was great, it was really wonderful!

Are these new shows since 2020? Did you do new shows during the pandemic?
Yes, we did some filming during the pandemic, not a lot. But I already had a lot of shows in the can, so we kept releasing them. This is my first series I am doing since the pandemic, this one I’m working on. I’m calling it ”Around the Table” because it’s always going to end with me around the table with a group of people who have great stories to tell. That won’t air until next year.

I love your show on Create, and wish for more episodes since you travel and show us these trips. When did you start traveling again since 2020?
That’s a really good question, I did my first tours in May of this year (2022), and I had four different tours. I was in Sicily, Morocco, Tuscany and I did one other, all back-to-back, and I had 60 people. Now what’s really interesting is I am doing three more which are coming up. In one of them I only have six people, which is weird, everybody wants to go next year. Usually, I would have 45 people; I probably had 35 people. It’s interesting. Everybody is like, “I want to go next year, I want to go next year.”

But your first food tours this year, you had 60.
Yeah, 15 in each, they were full.

Funny, the second half of the year it isn’t full. Isn’t it?
Two of them were on islands, the two on islands are less full, but the one in Rioja, which is south of Bilbao, that one is full. I find it really interesting, I don’t know why.

Aside from the show, you seem busy with food tours.
Yeah, but I’m opening another restaurant (laughs). I have an incredibly busy restaurant in Sausalito. It’s a very small restaurant, it’s only 50 seats, 1,700 square feet and we are having the busiest year we’ve ever had. I am not there as the chef, it’s modern Mexican, but I go and taste everything. And I’m very much a part of the restaurant in Silicon Valley, it’s an area called Willow Glen, beautiful little neighborhood. I’m opening a restaurant that’s 6,200 feet with a downstairs and rooftop bar and it’s going to be really, really an incredible place. The designer is great, it’s going to be really great, but it’s not opening until the beginning of next year.

What made you want to open another restaurant?
I have restaurant partners, which is great because we all work together and we all have different tasks. Our involvement is all very different, but mine is definitely the food part of it; I have people who do the financial part, and it’s just like, “Why not?” And I’m excited about this new project. I like doing it. We’re bringing in a chef from Mexico City.

Is that going to be on the show?
I hadn’t planned to do that. I want to do food and wine. I want to keep it within what I do in terms of my food style, except I want to do one show about a Mexican family that does wine making; huge family and they were part of this movement that started after World War II that brought in Mexican workers because we didn’t have enough labor. This family came in and he started working the vineyards and now he owns a big vineyard. So, I want to do a story about them, but also how they celebrate and how they eat and also sit down at the very end with this big family. That’s the kind of show I want to do. I want to tell a story; I want to hear their story. It’s a very different show than what I’ve done before, but I love interviewing and I’ve done a lot of radio and I love that.

Is that another other season?
That’s the 13 shows that I’m working on right now. I want to go out to Tomales Bay, I want to go out on the oyster boats with them; I did this 22 years ago. Because Tomales Bay has been really controversial in terms of the oyster harvesting and I want to talk about that and then sit down with the oyster fisherman and I want to eat oysters with them, but I want to hear their story. There’s always going to be a story.

So that’s the season after?
It’s part of it, because Tomales Bay is part of Sonoma. So, there would be a wine aspect in there, but I will show a lot of the agriculture, I’ve got a lot ideas for it, more than 13, for sure.

Being with the new station, are you able to do shows faster?
No. It’s going to take a little bit more work because we’re not doing anything in the studio, the cooking will be on location. I’ll tell you one more idea, I have a really good friend who is an incredible designer, she used to be with Pottery Barn and Restoration Hardware, she has beautiful ranch in northern Sonoma, and she also grows grapes and makes wine. She’s from Spain and I want to tell her story, also there’s another friend I know who is making Iberico ham and I want to include him, because they’re best friends, and have dinner with them. So, it’s her story and his story.

Has 2020 changed you and what have you learned, if anything, from it?
For sure, if anybody had told me at the beginning that I was going to stay home for two years and not see friends and be with people, I’m an incredibly gregarious and outgoing person. I love people, I love to be with people and I would say, “You’re crazy, I can’t do it.” And I actually think it was really good for me and I realized who the people in my life are that really mean something to me and I like my time alone now. I also got a Peloton.

What’s a typical day like for you now, post 2020?
I feel like I’m on email a lot like still I’ve got so may emails, but I’m just really busy right now, and mainly because I am traveling a lot. I’m doing 13 new shows, I’m opening a restaurant, I’m doing the tours. All this stuff, every single one that takes a ton of time, I’m the EP for my new show, so I’m very involved in that. I’m in charge of the food at the restaurant, that’s kind of an important part of the restaurant. But I’m busy it seems at home, but then traveling a ton. I’m really happy to be traveling again, I am such a gypsy, and I am so happy to be traveling. I’m a little anxious this year because I will end up being in Europe for more than three months, including England and Morocco, almost four months, so that’s a lot.

When you don’t feel like cooking, what’s an easy, healthy dish to make?
Chicken soup, that is my go to. I make that about once a week. In my freezer I have homemade chicken stock and I always have chicken thighs, I’ll cut them up throw them in and any vegetables I have in my refrigerator. If I go in a Mexican direction I’ll add a little cumin, a little oregano, and if I want to go in a Thai direction I’ll add some coconut milk, I’ll change it up. And I always call it my “Chicken Soup Diet” because I don’t have a lot of fat in it and when you’re a chef and you’re eating all over the world, you can gain weight and I manage to stay trim. I think it’s my Chicken Soup Diet.”

Even in the summer?
I live in San Francisco, I wouldn’t call it “summer,” but we do have nice days. Today’s a nice day. It’s going to be 70 or 69. But today’s nice, usually it’s overcast.

I find cleaning the hardest part of cooking. How often do you clean the stovetop, oven and do you have a greasy vent above the stove? Any tips?
That’s a great question. I have a cleaning woman, she comes once a week and she always does the stove. Always. It’s really great and the terrible thing is I don’t have a vent above my stove.

You mentioned when you’ll start filming the new season.
We’re just scouting right now; we’re going tomorrow up to Sonoma, but when I get back, we will definitely be filming and that will be, for me, the time that I’m not going to Europe so I’ll have time to put into that.

Do you know if CreateTV will do a marathon as they have for other shows?
They did one for me, they did it in December. They’ve done one for me each year, they’re very big supporters, so it’s good.

Is there anything you’d like to add?
Just to talk about my tours because that’s the thing that I love the most. It’s funny, I do so many things in my career – owning a restaurant and writing cookbooks and having a TV show, but the thing I love the most is the tours because I really do love to travel and I love discovering, but I also love sharing that discovery with people and I love the “a-ha!” moment when they see something or they’ve learn something they just didn’t know and makes sense to them. I really do love them, and I feel so lucky to be doing them. Now I have locations in Marrakesh, Morocco, Rioja in Spain, Majorca, Seville, and then I have the South of France; I’m doing that again next year. Cote d’Azur, it’s going to be in Saint Paul de Vence, which is so beautiful. And then I have a new location; I am so excited about it. It’s an absolute palace in Portugal, it’s right outside Lisbon in the beautiful town of Sintra. It’s really an exquisite location. I also have locations in Tuscany. One of my favorites is Sicily, very close to Taormina. Everybody who knows Taormina loves Taormina. And the island of Syros in Greece.

Are these houses you rent?
I rent villas and they cook with me, and we go on excursions and we really explore the region. We probably do four classes during the week, sometimes it’s more. And the tours include every single thing – your accommodation, the cooking classes, wine, food, excursions. Everything except for your flight and they’re really wonderful; what I love is, it attracts people who love food and wine like I do. It’s great!

Joanne Weir is host of several public media cooking shows; watch her on Create TV (KLCS 58.3). Check out: klcs.org/schedule for broadcast dates and times. You can follow Joanne on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook: @ChefJoanneWeir

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