‘The Chew’s’ Clinton Kelly on Recipe Disasters, Crazed Soap Fans and Choking (and Bleeding!) on Live TV

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Fashion, food and lifestyle guru Clinton Kelly hit the zeitgeist in 2003 as cohost of What Not to Wear—people still stop him on the street and ask, “How do I look?”—but these days he’s even better known as the Emmy-winning moderator of The Chew. If only he could stay out of trouble with the censors.

Unlike The View, The Talk and other group gab shows, The Chew—nearing the end of its sixth season—hasn’t suffered from host replacements or personality conflicts. How do you account for that?
What’s crazy is that we only spent 20 minutes together when ABC did our chemistry test. I’ve met a lot of folks in showbiz who are just so fake, so miserable, just putting it on for the camera, but we are five nice people who are genuinely happy for each other’s success. The real show is the 90 minutes we spend in the hair and makeup room before we go on camera. We are absolutely howling with laughter. Unfortunately, most of the material would not be appropriate for daytime TV.

Well, you sure get away with a lot of sexual innuendo on air—especially when one of you is pounding meat or shooting cream into a puff pastry.
We are the worst, and we get reprimanded by the producers all the time! Deep down, we’re like a bunch of 16-year-olds. But I think that’s why the show works.

You’re all such high-octane personalities. Are there ever times when the energy just isn’t there?
Only once was the energy really low, and that was the day after the presidential election. Other than that, if one of us is dragging or in a bad mood—and I’m usually the moodiest—the other four will pick up the slack. We have a saying for that backstage. Instead of “Wake up!” we say “Fake up!” If you’re not in a good mood, just get it together and fake it for an hour. Our job is to deliver a lighthearted show.

So much so that, at first, The Chew seemed pretty fluffy and irrelevant. But now it’s a much-needed tonic to all the crazy chaos of the real world. It’s “Calgon Take Me Away” TV.
We’re very conscious of the fact that the television viewer is bombarded by bad news all day long—so many crises, so much bickering and partisanship. Being informed can be exhausting! You need to step back every once in a while and remember what’s really important—sitting down with family or friends at the end of the day and enjoying a meal, sharing a story, having some laughs.

You took a lot of crap from soap fans when The Chew replaced All My Children. Did that mess with your head?
It was rough. I had a lot of people on social media telling me I was the devil and that they hoped everything I ever touched for the rest of my life would fail miserably. Some people thought the cohosts had actually conspired to convince the ABC executives to cancel All My Children and put us on the air instead, which is not the way TV works. So that was a drag, but in time that cooled down. Now I hear from people who say, “I vowed never to watch The Chew because it replaced my soap but one day I decided to give your show a chance. Now I can’t live without it.” [Laughs] You can’t do better than that.

The famous story about Julia Child dropping a chicken on the floor during a cooking show, then picking it up and continuing on with the recipe is supposedly pure hooey, but it does speak to chefs being remarkably resilient when things go haywire. Does this cooking-on-TV thing ever throw you? The only time I ever get nervous is when I have a complicated recipe and I have to simultaneously interview a celebrity. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I can keep a recipe flowing. I can keep a conversation flowing. But not at the same time! Otherwise the experience is very freeing. You make a mistake? So what? I’m lucky enough to earn a living showing people how to make chicken on TV and giving them a smile. I’ve got the best life possible.

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And it seemed in danger a couple of weeks ago when Carla Hall was making granola and you started choking on a pumpkin seed. You had to slowly edge your way off camera to get some relief.
Talking while eating is dangerous, so that’s always terrifying. So is cutting yourself on camera. I haven’t done it on The Chew but I did it during a cooking segment on Good Morning America. I reached under the table and hit my finger on a knife. I have a big issue with all bodily functions and fluids. I don’t even want to admit that I bleed so, when I see blood coming out of my own body on live TV, I break into flop sweat. [Laughs] I totally lose it.

What’s been your biggest recipe snafu?
There’s an episode that’ll air this summer where I have a total tarte tatin disaster. The thing folded all over itself and was an absolute mess. It’s basically apple pie, yet somehow I managed to screw it up. But I’m not operating on somebody’s brain. Nobody is going to die. You have to keep it all in perspective. [Laughs] It also helps that I’ve reached a point in life where I don’t care what anybody thinks.

Isn’t that the theme of your latest book, I Hate Everyone, Except You?
Exactly. I spent so many years—decades, really—worrying about my image. Was I good-looking enough? Funny enough? Charming enough? No more. Age has a lot to do with it. So does experience. I’ve spent my 10,000 Malcolm Gladwell hours to become an expert in what I do, and I’m confident in that. The constant people in my life have known me through the good and the bad, and they like me even when I’m behaving horribly. I’m not really worried about making new friends ever again—and that’s very liberating!


Salad Days

Summer’s coming, and that means easy-breezy dishes like Clinton Kelly’s potato salad. “When I entertain at home, I never put out Chateaubriand or anything complicated,” he says. “I don’t need to be all stressed out, yelling in the kitchen at my husband [psychologist Damon Bayles] and the dog, just as the company is arriving. I’m all about making everything ahead of time. The best host is a relaxed host.”

Clinton’s Potato Salad
Serves 4

1 pound small red-skinned new
potatoes, quartered
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup cooked crumbled bacon
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions
1 cup corn, fresh or frozen and thawed
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped

Place potatoes in a large pot, cover with water and add salt. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat to medium-low and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes, until the potatoes are just tender when pierced with a fork. Drain and let cool. In a large serving bowl, combine all other ingredients, add the potatoes, mix thoroughly and adjust seasonings. Can be served hot or cold.


The Chew, Weekdays, ABC