If you’re of a certain age, when you think of Valerie Bertinelli, images of her as Barbara Cooper in the sitcom One Day At a Time likely come to mind. If you’re of another era, it’s of her starring as Melanie Moretti alongside Jane Leeves, Wendie Malick and Betty White in Hot in Cleveland. But there is a growing legion of fans who now primarily recognize her from her Food Network shows Kids Baking, Valerie’s Home Cooking and the new Family Food Showdown.
“It’s crazy,” Valerie recently said at the Food Network TCA winter tour session. “I don’t get Barbara Cooper anymore. I don’t even get Melanie Moretti anymore. I get, like, ‘Oh, I saw your show. You make it look so easy to make such and such.’ And I’m, like, ‘Oh, my God, I’m really a Food Network personality now!’ You get it. You get that I have a passion for this and I love this. It used to be back in the day to try and get a TV movie they’d say, ‘Yeah, but she does comedy. How can she, you know, be dramatic?’ Then I did so many TV movies that I wanted to do a comedy. And then it’s, like, ‘Well, can she be funny?’ Now I don’t think I’m up for any acting roles at all, because I’ve really become such a big part of this network, and I’m okay with that.”
From the sound of it, she’s actually much more than just OK with that. “I love acting,” she emphasized, “but there’s not a lot of roles out there for a 58 [or] 59-year-old. And I’ve been cooking longer than I’ve been acting, so to be able to do something that I’ve loved for such a long time and share it with people is a gift that I’ve been given by Food Network. And it’s a station that’s on in my house all the time anyway, even before I was a part of the Food Network family. To be a part of it and to have everybody so excited about what I get to do on the network is really fun for me.”
Courtney White, President of Food Network, described Family Food Showdown this way: “Valerie leads the action where heritage, pride and unique family dynamics are the main ingredients. Valerie challenges each family’s cooking skills, recipes and bonds as a team. And in every episode she surprises everyone with curveballs as contestants race against the clock for the winning title.”
For Valerie, part of the appeal of this show and the others is the fact that at this stage of her life, she’s producing and having more creative control behind the scenes than she ever had as an actress, no matter how successful her TV shows or movies were, which one would imagine is more rewarding.
“Oh, hell yes!” she exclaimed during the TCA discussion. “Absolutely it’s much more rewarding. I get to work with an amazing amount of people; culinary experts that really know what they’re doing. I get to learn every day, too. Just like acting when I would work with the best people like Jane and Wendie and, of course, Ms. Betty White. You learn from the people you’re surrounded by and the thing about Food Network is they have the absolute best culinary production team in the background. A lot of these guys go to different shows and I’ve gotten to know them on the shows that I’ve done. I mean, I’ll see them on Beat Bobby Flay, I’ll see them on Kids Baking. Some of them are on my show, Valerie’s Home Cooking, and I learn from them every single day. So, for me, it’s like my own little school for cooking. Even though I’ve been doing it forever, you can always learn something new, and it’s just fun. I’m doing it at home anyway, and to be able to do it and share it with people is even better.”
Valerie can trace her cooking memories back to childhood in the kitchen with her mother. “My mom,” she reflected, “taught me how to make my first lasagna, and then when I changed the recipe, she wasn’t crazy about it, because her lasagna has ricotta in it and my lasagna has bechamel, and she thought that was horrendous until she tasted it — but it’s still not traditional according to her. She’s Irish/English and learned how to cook from my noni. But once you learn how to cook Italian, I guess you can’t just go back and you call yourself Italian anyway.
“I would also sit in my Aunt Adeline’s basement and watch my noni make cappelletti in brodo and gnocchi, and her fried bread and learned to make them then. I mean, I was 6 years old, probably, and then I think my mom taught me how to make lasagna when I was 9 or 10. I learned how to make cherry cheesecake when I was 10,” Valerie said.
An intriguing question she’s asked is how much of herself she puts out there, especially compared to acting where an actress gets to hide behind characters and lose themselves in a sense.
Valerie replied, “If you followed my acting career at all, you’ll know that I pretty much play a different version of me in everything. I’m not one of the great actresses of the world, so it was basically me. Like, Melanie Moretti was me enhanced tenfold. As klutzy as I was and how I couldn’t pronounce things correctly, it was just Valerie Bertinelli times a million. And I forget the cameras are there; I’ve been in front of the camera since I was 12 years old, so they kind of fade away immediately. It’s just me hanging out cooking, and they have to remind me to, you know, look at the camera and talk to your audience because I get so involved.”
Family Food Showdown premieres on Food Network on Sunday, March 3.