Out of all of your accomplishments, what are you most proud of?
I joke that I have James Beard awards, a Michelin star for my restaurant, a root beer company and the list goes on but my most proud accomplishment is that my son is 6 feet tall. [Laughs] That’s really the thing that I’m most proud of because I’m really tiny. If you saw me on Food Network’s “Sweet Dreams” I don’t look that short but it’s because they actually built our countertops three inches lower than the normal counter height. They do the same thing with [Food Network star] Sara Moulton, she’s shorter than I am. It gives the illusion that we have a little height but I’m barely scrapin’ 5 feet.
Like any industry, the world of desserts has trends. What are you seeing as a trend today?
It’s funny, I was doing an interview the other day on savory elements in dessert and I was trying not to insult the journalist but I was thinking, “You know, I was really doing that 15 years ago.” Fifteen years ago we were putting bacon and rosemary and salt and pepper into stuff. Salted caramel sauce is probably one of the biggest trends right now. Actually, at Lollapalooza I’m doing strawberries dipped in salted caramel sauce. We do rice krispie treats on a stick with salted caramel sauce to dip in at my new place, SpitzBurger, too.
You spent close to a decade on the Food Network with “Sweet Dreams” debuting in 2000. Now there are competition and reality shows to become a Food Network star. What was your audition process like?
There wasn’t one. It’s funny, people ask me about what you have to do to get a show on the Food Network and I say, “I have no idea!” because they called me. What had happened was I had been making appearances occasionally on Sara Moulton’s show. Every two years I’d have a new book come out and they would stick me on her show. My theory is because Sara’s kitchen was the first one that I had ever been in that actually fit [my small size] I had a level of comfort and ease that never came across before, plus Sara is just so easy to work with. So I would be on her show whenever I was in New York for a book tour and eventually I realized that every time I called them and let them know I was coming to town they would put me on. Then I started lying. I would call and say, “I’ll be in New York in February, can I be on Sara’s show?” and they would always say yes. Then I’d go and buy a ticket. I started doing that every two months and finally I called again and asked if I could be on her show and they said no. I said, “Really? Because I’m gonna be in town anyway and I’ve got this great new dessert that’s super easy and really colorful,” you know, trying to pitch the idea, but they still said no. They went on for three or four minutes [about why I couldn’t come on her show] and I’m thinking, “Who did I cross?” Then they said, “Because we want to offer you your own show!”
How did you react?
I wanted to scream! I mean, who wouldn’t want to? But instead of screaming I said to them, “I’m gonna have to get back with you on that, I’ll call you right back,” and I hung up. And then I screamed. The next day I called back very composed with a list of questions and cut the deal for the show. So that was my process, which you could never repeat now. Now there is a series of submitting not only demo tapes of yourself but you have to have a Facebook page with a certain number of likes and a certain number of established fans to prove that you’ve got draw. I didn’t have to jump through those hoops.
Is it safe to say you’re responsible for bringing the dessert at every family gathering?
Almost every one. On the Fourth of July though when I was invited to a party the email I got was, “Gale, why don’t you bring a side dish?” I wrote back, “Really? You’re really asking me for a side dish? Don’t you want me to bring dessert?” and he said, “Well, I didn’t want to make you work on your day off,” and I’m like, “It’s not work for me, it’s easy for me and it’s easier for me than anybody else,” and nobody wants to make dessert if I’m there anyway! You know, they’re self conscious. So I said, “Why don’t I bring a side dish and dessert? I’ll do both!”
You’ve named some of your desserts after personal experiences such as the Banana Split Up at Tru, the restaurant you created with then husband Rick Tramonto. Not many people could effectively co-own a business with an ex, how did you manage it?
I was always waiting for Oprah to call because we were gonna do the “Amicable Divorce For Dummies” show and teach people how to not have an adversarial divorce. My ex-husband and I were married for 12 years, we cooked together on and off in the kitchen for about 20. So the fact that we could even work together with fire and knives meant that we had special skills that other couples probably don’t have! But my analysis of it was that the issue that most couples fight about when they get divorced is money, and it’s not just that you have it and I want it but it’s being scared that you don’t have enough so they’re fighting because they’re afraid. When we got divorced it was practically right that same day when Food Network called and offered me my own show. Rick’s income was almost instantly replaced with income from the Food Network which meant that I didn’t have to worry about having to leave my home, the kids having to change schools or other day-to-day stuff. It was a really nice income that came right as I needed it and that is my attitude about the universe in general. It may not give you what you want but it gives you what you need. It really does and I try to convince my kids of that. You will get what you need, it will be there when you need it and things will be provided. Just answer your emails, return your phone calls, say thank you and you will have what you need.
If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?
The first person who comes to mind is Judy Garland. There would probably be some narcotics on the side though, wouldn’t there? Some tranquilizers? [Laughs] Sorry! Sorry about that. I was on the “Today Show” with Liza Minnelli once and that’s probably the closest I’ve ever gotten to Judy Garland.
Having also made many appearances on Martha Stewart’s show, can you tell us what she’s really like in person?
She’s very tall, first of all, and she insists on wearing heels so what they ended up doing was getting me a half apple box that went all across the set to [stand on]. And she can be difficult. I was making chocolate madeleines on her show so I brought my madeleine pans with me and was buttering the pan really well so the batter wouldn’t stick and while we’re talking through things her finger was wiping off the excess butter from my pan. I realize she’s a caterer so she has a lot more time to prep. I’m a restaurateur, we’re always in a hurry slammin’ it out but she is very precise. I also said to her, “Oh, the pans that I brought belonged to Julia Child!” I actually have Julia Child’s madeleine pans so I thought she might like them. She looked at them and kind of holds them up and said, “Oh yeah, these are from Dehillerin in Paris, just like mine.” [Laughs] So that was it. But I’d go back on in a second!
Some people might not be surprised to hear that.
I will tell you though, my husband comes with me for a lot of these filmings so he sits in the green room [while I’m on air] so he’s been in Oprah’s green room, the “Today Show”‘s green room, the tomorrow show’s green room, you name it! He’s been in every green room there is. But Oprah’s green room? The fifth richest woman in the world, right? It’s a fruit tray from Jewel and little muffins in cellophane with styrofoam plates. Martha Stewarts green room? There’s fine china, teacups, hot scones, homemade jam. She has really good green room food, so I’ll give her that!
Where is the most surprising place you’ve been recognized?
I was calling the Quickbooks hotline the other night to do some troubleshooting at two in the morning and I let the woman I was talking to take over my desktop and when she saw my headshot she goes, “Oh my God! Are you Gale Gand?” She was in the Philippines! I get emails from the Philippines all the time, apparently I’m huge there. So they’re big fans, big dessert fans.
Does it ever get old hearing people say that?
No, no! I was at Sundance one time doing one of the after-parties where Metallica was so I was making chocolate mousse all day for this big party and on that night I went to a bunch of the movies with my husband and I did not get recognized all day. At the end of the day we were leaving this Ralph Nader documentary and I said to my husband, “I think it’s over,” he’s like, “What do you mean? The relationship?” I said, “No, no. My career, I think it’s over. I didn’t get recognized all day,” and I was at Sundance! Where people are looking for familiar faces! This was in 2003 or 2004 and I actually thought to myself, “It was a really nice run, it was really great but I think I’m done. I’m gonna have to find a new career.” Then I stood up in the movie theater to leave and the woman in front of me stood up, turned around and looks at me and said, “Oh my God! You’re that pasty chef! You’re Gale Gand! Aren’t you?!” She goes, “Oh I’m so sorry! I’m so embarrassed that I did that.” I said, “No, no! Thank you. Thank you! I was about to go home and change careers!”
KIRSTEN MICCOLI / A DRINK WITH
Did you enjoy this feature? Subscribe to our newsletter and never miss a drink, we promise we’ll never spam you!