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Culinary star squeezes in a few days here at home

By Maria Young, Assistant city editor for features

When Bridget Lancaster moved to Boston with her husband, she did her best to find a small community like the one in Charleston, where she was born, or Cross Lanes, where she grew up.

“West Virginia is still my home, and always will be,” she said in a recent phone interview.

So she’s looking forward to a quick trip home, with a full-day public appearance June 22 at the Civic Center.

Lancaster credits her early years in the Mountain State with fostering an interest in food that led to a high-profile career as an original cast member of “America’s Test Kitchen” and “Cook’s Country,” half-hour cooking shows that air on PBS stations nationwide, including West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

“My mom made everything from scratch — breads, sauces. I didn’t actually know you could buy jarred tomato sauce for pasta until I was older. So between my mom and her cooking and my dad and his garden, I was hooked at a really young age,” she said.

“We had a really large garden so I was learning very early that the corn you just took off the stalk is way better than something you buy at the grocery store, and the best tomatoes I’ve ever had came out of the home in Cross Lanes.”

It probably takes a true native to recognize that “West Virginia was hipster before hipster was cool,” as Lancaster pointed out.

“You know, we’ve always had knitting circles, and now they’ve kind of taken over Manhattan. But West Virginians are really sturdy, stalwart people and they have a sense of independence — you can’t tell a West Virginian they can’t do something — and I think that reflects in the food and the attitude.”

She’s just wrapped up taping the 15th season of “ATK,” a blur of a schedule in which the crew recorded 26 episodes in a little less than three weeks.

“The test kitchen is a real working kitchen, so for the rest of the year we use that to test recipes for the magazine. On any given day you have 25, 30 test cooks in there testing all the different variables. Each recipe that we test in the test kitchen to develop a recipe for publishing, that recipe will have a minimum of 40 tests, from the size of the chicken, how to get the skin crisper, temperature of the oven — everything you can imagine.”

In September, they begin taping the next season of “Cook’s Country” at the Carver House, a farmhouse in Vermont.

Somehow, among all that, she finds time to work as one of the “ATK” executive food editors for television, radio and new media — and to take on a new task: “The biggest expansion of my job has been heading up the online cooking school.

“It is interactive. Students sign up, they can interact with each other, with other students, and then there’s the online cooking instructors who guide the students, they’ll follow the recipes, shoot a picture to the instructor … it’s pretty amazing.”

Lancaster will be at the broadcasting booth at the Charleston Civic Center June 22 from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. as a part of Taste-of-ALL Charleston, which features some of the area’s best culinary artists. Admission is free, and food tickets are available for cash purchase.

“We’re going to be at the West Virginia Public Radio booth, signing cookbooks, talking to anybody who comes by. My husband, Stephen, is coming too. He was a chef for a while at Laury’s, so we’re looking forward to seeing lots of friends.”

As for her favorite West Virginia food? That’s easy.

“Pinto beans and corn bread,” she said without hesitation. “I grew up Catholic, and Fridays were either fish or ‘meatless spaghetti’ or something like that, and the beans and corn bread was the one meatless meal where I didn’t miss the meat.”

For more information on Taste-of-ALL, visit www.festivallcharleston.com.


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