“It’s Not About the Food”

TV chef Joel Gamoran

Gamoran says he’s met lots of fun people in the green room including Tom Hanks, but his favorite “has to be Peggy from ‘Mad Men’ [Elisabeth Moss]. I had a little crush on her. My wife said, laughing, ‘Were you flirting with her?’”

One of the best meals TV chef Joel Gamoran ’07 (CLAS) recalls eating was at UConn — sort of. He was studying abroad in Italy and biked to a trattoria with a friend. “They plucked the fish out of the ocean and just grilled it right there, squeezed lemon on it, and it was the best thing I ever had. Now was it the fish? Was it the lemon? No, it was the bike, it was the 20-year-old me, it was the Italy, that seasoned that fish.”

Gamoran’s latest cooking show, PBS’s “Homemade Live,” sees the chef and friends recreating such food memories. Gamoran took up cooking at age 14 to battle anxiety and has been “spreading the gospel” ever since. “Cooking’s like giving someone a hug.” He’s a serial TV guest as well as host, who seeks to counter the cooking intimidation factor by maximizing the fun. “I’m not getting too sciencey, I’m not getting too foody — it’s not about the food, it’s about empowering people. And having fun. Because ultimately that’s what cooking’s all about — the joy of living.”

Joel’s Top 10 TV Appearances

Joel Gamoran prepares a Strawberry Salad on “Scraps”

Strawberry Salad on “Scraps” 2017
“Scraps” was my first TV show. That particular episode I got to make a salad with my mentor, Sally Hiebert, in one of my favorite places in the world — overlooking Point Reyes up in Sonoma County. I was pinching myself — standing there with the cameras and Sally in one of the holiest places in the world for me. I was just in euphoria in that recipe.

Joel Gamoran , Cookie Monster and Elmo pose with Confetti Ice Cream Sandwiches on “Sesame Street”

Confetti Ice Cream Sandwiches on “Sesame Street” 2022
I mean, come on, it’s “Sesame Street.” And it was Elmo’s birthday, so we got to make ice cream bars and sing “Happy Birthday.” It was amazing to be on that set and see the professionalism. There’s like three people to each puppet, it’s just mind-blowing. I even got Elmo and Cookie Monster to record a special message for my kids!

Gamoran cooks Lavender-Rubbed Steak on “The Today Show”

Lavender-Rubbed Steak on “The Today Show” 2013
This was the first time I was on “The Today Show.” Standing there with Hoda and Kathie Lee, I was so nervous, but I got through it. They say if you can just get through that first segment and deliver, you’re on for life, and that’s what I’ve found. Were there any glitchy moments that first time? Well, yeah: the very first thing I ever said on national TV. I worked for a company called Sur La Table and it’s weird to pronounce. Kathie Lee called it Sur La Tabla and I didn’t want the company to be upset so I corrected her in a funny but nice way: I go, Sur La Tabla? It’s Sur La Tab! And then Kathie Lee says, What are you — French? And I go, No, no, no, I’m Jewish, and she died laughing. And it goes back to this idea of how it’s not about the food — be there, be present with them, have fun, make jokes, the way that you would with your friends. That’s what got “The Today Show” interested — they’re like, OK, this is not just a run-of-the-mill chef, this is a guy who can play off one of the best journalists in the world. So, yes, it was a little glitch, but that moment was my breakthrough moment.

Joel Gamoran shows off his PBS shirt in test kitchen

Chipotle Tuna Tostadas on “Homemade Live” 2023
My new show. I’m so proud of this show! It’s in front of a live studio audience on PBS. This tuna tostada — years and years ago I was hired to cater a wedding and this was the late night food to serve after the dancing. It was going to be on this cute little sailboat in San Francisco Bay. So I’m getting all the groceries on the boat, and I go back to the car to get another load, come back to the boat, and half my groceries are just gone! It’s so weird — a seal stole my groceries and ate all my food so I couldn’t make the tostadas for this bride. I felt so bad. And that’s what “Homemade Live” is all about — thinking of these funny memories, these great food memories, and then re-creating them. I got to make those tuna tostadas that that frickin’ seal stole from me, and it was a blast. Everyone just loved that story, the energy was high, and it was just so cool to see that show get off the ground.

Fried Trout bones by Joel Gamoran

Fried Trout Bones on “Scraps” 2018
The Bozeman, Montana, episode — we were fly fishing with a guy named Eduardo Garcia. He electrocuted himself in an accident on a hunting trip, so he has a hook for a hand. Meanwhile he’s one of the best chefs I’ve ever met. He uses his hook to grab hot pans and he’s also incredibly delicate. He taught me how to fly fish and we caught all this trout. “Scraps” is about using everything, so we fried the bones into this crunchy, beautiful snack, and it was just this incredibly cool moment sitting and cooking in this river with this unbelievable champion of life.

Polenta by Joel Gamoran

Sweet Corn Polenta on “Scraps” 2017
The Seattle episode of “Scraps.” I got to come home after 21 different cities and do my home. There’s something about sweet corn in Seattle, it’s unbelievably candy-like, and family, friends, everyone came out to the shoot. It felt like a full circle moment, very meaningful.

Joel Gamoran prepares Grilled Salmon and Creamy Cauliflower on “The Today Show”

Grilled Salmon and Creamy Cauliflower on “The Today Show” 2017
This recipe just works, and it’s representing a newer part of my life where I’m really trying to be mindful of what I’m eating, shed some weight, and be healthy. This salmon with creamy cauliflower — you don’t miss mashed potatoes, you don’t miss meat, you just feel fulfilled. And the reviews were insane, better than cookies or anything meat-related. It was interesting for me to see that, a real unlock — OK, I can do healthy food, and people will really enjoy that.

Joel Gamoran prepares Sticky Cranberry Hand Pies on “Sesame Street”

Sticky Cranberry Hand Pies on “Sesame Street” 2021
“Sesame Street” is always just a marquee experience for me. This was my second time on, I felt so much more confident, I understood what the rules were. Like Cookie Monster is 30, so talk to him as an adult, and Elmo, he’s 3, so talk to him like a toddler. There’s all these things you don’t realize as a viewer that you find out on set. I remember we were rolling out the dough for hand pies, and they were like, well, Cookie Monster can’t touch the dough, so they quickly made a fake dough that wouldn’t stick to his fur that looked exactly like my dough. I mean this team is just insane.

Bourbon Milkshakes by Joel Gamoran

Bourbon Milkshakes on “Homemade Live” 2024
Do I need to say anything else? Bourbon. Milkshakes. Done.

Pickle Brined Fried Chicken by Joel Gamoran, prepared on “The Today Show”

Pickle Brined Fried Chicken on “The Today Show” 2015
This was a “Scraps” recipe we did on “Today.” Katie Couric has been a friend, mentor, and a really big reason I’ve had success. I asked her to go back on the show to cook with me. She was hesitant ’cause she’s already been on there for like a bajillion years, but she came on and she helped me promote “Scraps,” so it was a really cool moment. I don’t think I would have had a show if it wasn’t for her. I pitched it to every channel you can imagine and everyone said no, no one wants to see you eat your garbage. I was like, no, we throw away way too much food, so let’s inspire people not to. And then Katie — we have a long story about how we became friends, but bottom line, we were friends — and she took one meeting with me and of course the network was like this is great, we love this. No one loved it before, but now that Katie Couric is involved …!

By Lisa Stiepock
Photo by Doug Hall


  1. Joel
    CONGRATULATIONS!!! Love the article but especially LOVE your ZOOM HOMEMADE cooking classes almost everyday. I’m a “Closet Chef” and have been attending EVERY class since you started them during the pandemic!! I’m REALLY getting good!! Thank you!!!!

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