Photography by Sasha Israel
“WHENEVER I’M COOKING FOR A BIG GROUP, I ALWAYS HAVE A VEGETARIAN SIDE DISH THAT COULD DOUBLE AS A MAIN,” SAYS KATIE LEE IN THE LUSH, EMERALD BACKYARD OF HER SUMMER HOME ON THE EASTERN END OF LONG ISLAND. “I use to be a vegetarian and I remember going to people’s houses and only eating broccoli.” You could say Lee is the quintessential expert to entertaining. With three cookbooks under her belt, a new foodie travel show dubbed Beach Bites and an endless reel of The Kitchen segments, the television host knows a thing or two about throwing a good dinner party. Tip one: Don’t help. “I’m very much, ‘Do me a favor, don’t do me any favors,” she says matter-of-factly in a soft-spoken West Virginian drawl. “I have a plan and I know what needs to be done. If you want to bring something, great! But make it at your house.” With fall kicking off, Lee is and gearing up for the cooler weather by stocking up on her favorite produce. “I love winter greens, root vegetables, butternut squash, parsnips and carrots,” says Lee. “And I love when kale comes in again. I know kale salads are so 2015, but I still love them.” In between grilling up her signature vegetable and black bean salad (recipe below) from her latest cookbook Endless Summer, she talks preparing to shoot a television show in a bikini, her favorite shoreside meal and why Bobby Flay pisses her off.
The salad that you are making has grilled vegetables. Why did you choose to grill them versus keep them raw?
I’ve been cooking outside so much more this summer. I’ve also started putting everything on the grill. You really can grill a lot more than you think. I tried eggs in the shell instead of boiling them and they turned into a hard-boiled egg. On The Kitchen, we took chocolate chip cookie dough, put it on aluminum foil and baked it on the grill. I’ve also started doing my prep outside, which feels less like a chore and more like I’m part of the group when I’m entertaining. With these vegetables, I like to brush the oil onto the veggies to get an even coating and flavor throughout. I’ll usually use olive oil, though sometimes when I’m cooking meat I’ll switch to canola, which has a higher smoke point.
What is your favorite gift a guest has brought you?
Last week I had a few women over for lunch and someone brought me a basket of vegetables from her garden. I thought that was the nicest hostess gift. I used the vegetables for a week!
When you’re doing a dinner party, what is your go-to menu?
I like to do a side of fish. I’ll cook one long piece of fish and then place it with different relishes and sauces out on a cutting board so people can come and grab what they want. I also think it’s fun to get people involved, so I’ll do a taco night and grill a bunch of different proteins and veggies, throw some tortillas on the grill, add salsas and guacamole so everybody can build his or her own.
What’s your latest barbecue obsession?
I’ve abeen really into sausages lately. At Peconic Prime Meats in Southampton, the guy makes fresh sausage every single day in different flavors and they’re so freakin’ good. I’ll get a ton of those and throw them on the grill with a ton of vegetables. The Indian curry one is insane.
Any tricks to making a fast salad when entertaining?
If you make your salad vinaigrette in the serving bowl, it’s one less thing to clean up. Another trick is to place a bowl upside down inside of a larger bowl, prop your shucked corn stalk on the round center and slice down so that the corn goes right into the bowl and nowhere else.
If you were to adapt this recipe to fall, how would you do it?
I think it’d be great to replace the zucchini with butternut squash and replace the corn with quinoa.
What’s your favorite dish to eat in the fall?
Shredded raw Brussels sprouts, quinoa and kale. It’s always in my refrigerator.
How did Beach Bites come about?
It was my ultimate dream. To travel around to beaches and eat! Somehow the network said yes. It was a total dream come true and so much fun.
When you got the green light, what was your initial thought?
My first initial thought was, “Oh wow, this is going to be fun.” My second thought was, “I need to get my butt in the gym. ASAP.” I had worked out at Tracy Anderson Method for a couple years at that point, going for an hour a couple of times a week. When you really stick to Tracy’s program you see results. So I started going two hours a day, six days a week. I did that for three months and it completely changed my body.
Did you change the way you ate during that time?
I was mindful. I definitely still splurged. I wanted to start the season in extra good shape because I knew I would gain weight as the show went on. I wanted to have that little bit of wiggle room. Some people would write to me on Instagram and say that they had no time to be going to the gym that often, and by no means am I telling anyone that’s what they should do. If I weren’t on television in a bikini, I wouldn’t be doing it either. I just considered it part of my job.
When shooting, what were the places that stuck with you the most?
I was really surprised by how much I loved the Golden Isles of Georgia. We had gone to all of these different exotic locations, but I didn’t expect this to be so breathtaking. It just goes to show how many hidden gems we have close to us that we overlook. The food was great there, insane natural beauty everywhere you look.
When you’re traveling and working and want to look and feel good, what are on-the-road tips?
I get up early and workout, even when I don’t want to. Because I eat all day long during shooting, I always looked for something really light for dinner. Since we were in tropical locations a lot of places had acai bowls, which I got obsessed with having for dinner.
Where did you have the best acai bowl?
The best acai bowl I’ve ever had in my life was from a grocery store in Puerto Rico. It was a chain, like the equivalent of King Kullen, and they had this acai bowl bar with every kind of fresh tropical fruit and topping. I think my bowl weighed ten pounds. I also had good ones at Tom’s Juice Bar in St. Barth’s. The whole crew got into it too. I also tried not to drink.
What places are still on your bucket list to visit?
I want to check out more places in the States. I want to go to beaches that I’ve never been to and normally wouldn’t go on my own. Alabama, Washington State, the Northeast, and I want to explore Hawaii more. I really learned a lot when shooting our pilot in Mackinac Island, Michigan. I’m always wanting to plan trips to Italy or the Caribbean and I realized I overlook these awesome places in the States.
What were some of the best dishes you tried?
I went to this town in Puerto Rico called Fajardo. There was a restaurant called La Estacion that was inside an old gas station. There I had some of the best barbecued ribs of my life with a local homemade guava sauce. We really looked to social media to learn where people liked to travel and what they were eating. We did the research, contacted different places, had the chefs send us iPhone videos of what they were cooking, and then we made our list.
In Miami, we met up with Bobby Flay and he took me to his favorite Cuban café, Tinta Y Café, where they do updated Cuban sandwiches. They do everything from scratch, it was unbelievably good. I guess when Bobby Flay tells you you’re about to have the best Cuban sandwich of your life, you know its true.
Do you ever cook with Bobby?
I love to cook with Bobby. He’s like my big brother. He really is the best chef I know. We cook together a lot and I just try to observe everything he does and pick up what I can.
What has he taught you in the kitchen?
He has taught me so much about flavor. He’s the king of being bold and aggressive with seasoning. He’s made me think differently about food and combinations. One day we were talking about cooking something Indian, and neither of us really know how to do it. So he came over with a bunch of groceries and said, “Let’s just cook.” Of course, he made this unbelievable Indian lunch. He just whipped it up. It’s like somebody who can play music by ear. He’s just so good, it pisses me off.
Katie’s Grilled Vegetable & Black Bean Salad
1 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into slabs ½ inch (12 mm) thick
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 large ear of sweet corn, husked
1 bunch scallions
1 (15oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 ripe avocado, diced
Juice of ½ lemon
Juice of ½ lime
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon dried oregano
- Preheat an outdoor grill to medium-high.
- Brush the zucchini slices lightly with oil and season lightly with salt and pepper. Grill the slices, turning once, until charred but not mushy, about 2 minutes per side. Grill the corn, turning frequently, until cooked through and the kernels are charred, about 10 minutes. Grill the scallions whole, turning them frequently, until charred and soft, about 2 minutes.
- Cut the zucchini into ½ inch (12 mm) pieces and put them in a serving bowl. Slice the kernels from the corn and add them to the zucchini; chop the scallions and add them also. Add the beans and avocado to the bowl and toss gently to combine.
- In a small bowl, whisk the lemon and lime juices, the mustard, honey and oregano together. While whisking constantly, add 2 tablespoons oil in a slow stream; whisk until thick and emulsified/ Season the dressing with salt and pepper to taste and pour it over the vegetables. Toss well to coat, taste, and season with more salt and pepper if necessary. Serve immediately.