Known for her Tony Award-winning turn in The Producers as bombshell assistant Ulla and in the show-stopping role of Ziegfeld's Favorite in The Will Rogers Follies, Huffman's off-stage passions include a lifelong love of food – one which fans may already know from her on-screen appearances as a judge on "Iron Chef America" for ten years.
Playbill.com spoke with Huffman about her passion for food and her top-seven must-eat places for everything from cupcakes to cocktails to brunch.
Where did your love of cooking and food come from?
CH: I grew up in an Italian household in California, so everything was fresh. I lived with my mother and my grandmother. My grandmother cooked the sauce. When she did the sauce it was a two-day affair. You didn't just whip it up and throw it on the table. She had a "pasta fazool" [pasta e fagioli] that was legendary! I can't believe no one bothered to write the recipe down. We all still talk about it.
I remember my grandmother loved her toast a little burnt. She would put a little mayonnaise on it, slice some tomatoes and some salt. There was something a little ritualistic about food that was special. You sliced, you prepared. And my mother, who was a single mother, worked three part-time jobs, but she and my grandmother always made sure that someone was cooking dinner for us. We had a very experimental kitchen; she loved to cook different things and this was California, so everything was fresh. Nothing packaged at all.
How did "Iron Chef" come about for you?
CH: A friend of mine at Food Network was producing "Iron Chef America." They had done the pilot and foodies can be very dry, especially back then, and I think I was in The Producers, and he said, "Cady, you're sort of a celebrity." [Laughs.] "Would you come onto our new show?" I was like, "Free food? Sure, I'll do that." And then I ended up doing ten seasons of it.
It was funny, I didn't consider myself a foodie, particularly. So, when I got on the show, I found that I really do have a palette and that people for some reason wanted to hear what I had to say about the food. I think because I put it in pretty simple terms. And I could rib Jeffrey Steingarten, and I love him! [Laughs.] He's so knowledgeable, but what happened was I learned so much from all of them. I'm so happy to have tasted some of the best food in the world.
Was there anything they put in front of you that made you think, "How am I going to eat that?
CH: I have no food phobia at all. I have put strange things in my mouth! [Laughs.] One of the big things I learned doing "Iron Chef" was the aesthetics of food. It has to looks pleasing before you eat it. It all looks gorgeous, so you never think, "Ew, I'm not going to eat that mountain of calves liver."
Did anything surprise you that you thought might not be as good as it was?
CH: Actually never. I'm kind of boring that way. Some things certainly surprised me. One of my favorite things was the Offal battle – things that fall off a butchered animal. So, it was pig's ears, trotters, blood, tripe – anything. That was the only show where they called me beforehand to make sure I would do it.
People are going to wonder how you maintain a dancer's body and indulge. Any secrets?
CH: I don't reward myself with food and I don't punish myself with food. And I think that is much more the root of dietary problems. I don't eat processed foods and I don't like fast food. As I've gotten older, I have to watch my diet. I stick to gluten-free, I cut out some dairy and meats. I eat well and I don't worry about it too much.
Click through to see Cady Huffman's Picks of her New York City culinary destinations:
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