Is David Venable The Most Influential TV Food Personality?

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QVC stand-and-stir-and-sell program In The Kitchen With David is a sort of 60 Minutes figure in the world of home shopping networks. The program, which airs on Wednesday at 9 p.m. and Sundays at noon, is highly influential. As our contributor Chris Chamberlain found out when he appeared on the program, the host David Venable can push units (to the tune of 1,000 copies a minute). His own book, In The Kitchen with David, has sold an insane 260,000 copies so far. Those are Twilight numbers.

But why? First, it's QVC in general, a company with over $8.3 billion in annual revenue. They know how to sell, bottom line. But for David, who has hosted a number of shows at the network for 19 years, it's a matter of offering home cooks a voice that "speaks to them." He speaks to foodies. Hell, he's OK with the term "foodie," which doesn't make his skin crawl like many people in food media. We spoke with him from the QVC mothership outside Philadelphia to find out some of his favorite products, and how he prepares for his day in front of the camera.

What's your process in picking the products, books and gear that you have on your show?

I don't pick all of the products personally, but I do have a lot of input in what goes on the program. I do choose the lion's share of the cookbooks, though, because I consider myself a home cook. I'm an accomplished home cook, but I'm not a chef and I don't pretend to be. I think that some of the folks who watch In the Kitchen with David are excited about elevating their game. If it's a gadget or a new line of cookware, hopefully it'll make them feel more confident or competent in the kitchen — that's some of the criteria we look at. In addition to that, we try to keep on top of trends in the kitchen and working very close with vendors worldwide.

What does your office look like? There must be stacks and stacks of books?

Well, I can tell you that I have every book that we have ever sold on the show in my kitchen. I've been hosting the show for four years, so you can imagine that it overtakes my kitchen for a while. What I have taken to doing is going through the basement and donating the books that didn't make the cut, or were only on QVC once. I really enjoy being able to share them with folks who can appreciate them — I've donated them to public libraries, local charities, things like that.

What are some of your favorite cookbooks this season?

I'm a huge fan of America's Test Kitchen and Cook's Country, which are both sister broadcasts on PBS. We have sold their cookbooks very regularly and very successfully — there is a lot of synergy between those cooking shows and ours because I believe we speak to the same audience. We've also had a lot of success with a little book called In The Kitchen with David.

I saw you sold 300,000 copies or something?

Actually, the latest figure I'm told is about 260,000 copies, but that's only on QVC.

What are some of your favorite recipes in the book?

What really makes it my book is that it is all comfort food. I am a huge fan of comfort food and always have been – I was born and raised in the South, but I quickly came to realize that comfort food is limited in the South. We've got a marvelous recipe for New England clam chowder and wonderful shrimp po' boys from New Orleans. We've got grilled salmon from the Pacific Northwest and of course, fried chicken, chicken and dumplings and macaroni and cheese. These are the kinds of dishes that we all know and understand and hope to come home to again when we've been away for awhile.

What is the preparation like for the show? You're really gifted at telling the story of these products in a clear way. Do you practice a lot?

Not so much practice. I've been doing this job for actually 19 years on the day. I was hired on December 13, 1993, I just realized that [laughs]. I've been doing this for an awfully long time — the process is similar but the products are always changing and that's exciting and what has kept me here for 19 years. There's not so much practice that goes on as much as there is understanding the products. If it's a brand new concept or a new trending product, I'll have a chance to meet with our merchants and have a chance to take a sample home and work with it. If it's classic cookware that I have sold many times, it's just an ongoing conversation that I am used to having. It's a mixture of those things.

So what's your day like when you are filming?

Let's take a Sunday for example. The show begins at noon, so I am in the building at 9 a.m. that day going through and picking wardrobe for the day, which always includes choosing a colored apron and shirt combo that I have not worn recently [laughs]. At 9:30 a.m., I meet with my production team and we have a chance for the next half hour or so to walk through the show and meet four producers and myself. That's a chance for us to discuss how we are going to execute some things — having said all that, we are prepping the show all week long — the producers have been working on elements and things we plan on interjecting in the show, but this is the time we actually walk through it product by product.

After that?

I'm in hair and makeup for about 30 minutes and then I am prepping with all the guests. At that point, I am going through every product demonstration with every guest who will be on my show that day. There is a recurring cast of characters on the show — a lot of our guests are returning guests, so it's not an unusual or unfamiliar working relationship — but I also have a fair number of folks who are visiting our show for the first time — I tend to spend more time with them to get them acquainted with what we're doing and have them get more accustomed to me and my style.

I'm sure a lot of them can be quite nervous. How do you calm their nerves?

Well, they can be. It's a little daunting when you come into a situation like ours. It's extraordinary just to watch the orchestration of organized chaos backstage in our prep kitchens and onto the set. If you're a newcomer to this whole situation, you'd see tables flying by you and probably 20 people on headsets running around, cameras flying in and out. To someone who is not familiar with the process, it can look a little overwhelming. But it's a well-oiled and well-organized machine.

What do you think of the word "foodie"? You use it, and a lot of people embrace it. But a lot of people don't necessarily agree with that term.

I really define a foodie as someone who has a passion for food, wherever they find it. I think there was a time when we reserved the term for people who only ate sophisticated food, who went to the finest restaurants and had a sophisticated palate for lots of different kinds of food. What I've come to understand is that the true definition of a food in my mind is someone who really has a great passion for the food that they love and for trying different kinds of food. They don't necessarily have to be all that adventurous to be considered a foodie. I think it all boils down to someone who has great passion for eating, for great food and for wonderful cooking. That's why I refer to our customers and our viewers as foodies — they really get excited about common themes, great recipes, eating good food and sharing that experience. So much about being a foodie is experiencing that and sharing it with other people who are of a like mind.

Form watching your show it seems like there isn't anything that rattles David. You seem very calm and relaxed. Is that true?

It all depends on what the situation is [laughs]. What I've come to understand through this show is that if you're talking from your heart, and from your stomach, there are lots of people that are happy to join into that conversation. It becomes a very easy and creative conversation and one that is fun to join in on and leaves you feeling very calm and very gratified that you are with folks who feel...

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