Debbie Matenopoulos Interview: "Home & Family" Host Honors Heritage with "It's All Greek to Me"
Image attributed to Debbie Matenopoulos
Debbie Matenopoulos is a three-time Emmy nominee for her celebrated work as a TV host and journalist. At 21, she became the youngest person in history to hold a permanent co-host position on daytime network television when Barbara Walters handpicked her to be one of the first five hosts of ABC’s The View. She has also served as co-host of CBS’s Emmy-nominated The Insider.
Matenopoulos is currently the co-host of Hallmark Channel’s Home & Family as well as a special correspondent for Entertainment Tonight. The first member of her family born in America, she grew up in a traditional Greek household eating delicious, authentic Greek cooking that her family had passed down for generations. On January 9, 2018, her cookbook, It’s All Greek to Me: Transform Your Health the Mediterranean Way with My Family’s Century-Old Recipes, was released in paperback.
“Everything I learned and everything I know from cooking, I learned from my aunts, my mom, my grandmothers and my uncle who owned a bakery in Greece.”
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Debbie, is the paperback edition of It’s All Greek to Me different than the hardcover first edition?
Debbie Matenopoulos: It is. There are 15 new, original recipes in it that are all from my family. A few are old receipes of mine that I sort of tweaked and put a new twist on. Honestly, I could’ve added another 30, but we decided we were going to save some for the second cookbook. One of them is a Greek-style mac and cheese, which is absolutely scrumptious. I’ve got another one in there for a chickpea fritter, which is really delicious as well. It’s unexpected, but it’s really nice, especially for people that are vegetarians. We have some traditional lamb chops and just some really nice, great recipes that I think a lot of people that know Greek food might not necessarily know because they’re very specific in Greece. I wanted to introduce people here to other foods that they might not know that are really great.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why did you decide to write a cookbook?
Debbie Matenopoulos: I decided to do the cookbook a few years ago as a way to honor my family and honor my father. My father had just passed away of ALS. He died on March 7, 2012. It was kind of like a love letter to my family and my heritage, and I wanted people to enjoy the Mediterranean food and the recipes that I have enjoyed my entire life growing up and appreciate them as much as I have because I felt like there was a void in the market for really great Greek food. I spend so much time in the kitchen cooking. I really love cooking, and I think people who enjoy it know that a lot of the preparing of food is about the love you really put into it.
Everything I learned and everything I know from cooking, I learned from my aunts, my mom, my grandmothers and my uncle who owned a bakery in Greece. It was probably my favorite thing I’ve ever done in my career to date because it mixes my family, my heritage and my love for sharing all that stuff with the world. We went to Greece, and everything we did was 100% authentic. My book publisher said, “You can just shoot the pictures here in the studio in a kitchen here in the States,” and I said, “No. If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do a really true, authentic Greek cookbook.” That’s what we did.
It cost a little more money to go do it, but in the end, it really paid off and ended up becoming a number one bestseller as far as Mediterranean cookbooks. It was number one in the world for two months on Amazon and on Barnes & Noble for two weeks. Number one Mediterranean cookbook in the world! Everyone was like, “What?” I think it also was a true testament to the fact that this book was legit. It wasn’t like, “Oh, she’s on television. She wants to do a cookbook, so let’s put her name on a cookbook.” It was very important to me that it was completely authentic because these are my family’s recipes. These are recipes that have been in my family for hundreds of years that have been passed down through the generations.
When it came down to it, as the years went on, and my grandmothers passed away and my uncle passed away, we were losing these recipes and the next generation wasn’t as apt to being in the kitchen to cook all of them. It was something I loved, and I knew that if we didn’t get these recipes down on paper, and if I didn’t put them in some sort of book form, we would lose them forever. So that’s how it started. Prying these recipes out of my family’s hands was a little difficult at times because every single person has their “secret” ingredient, but at the end, they were absolutely thrilled to be a part of it and ended up sharing everything. Even local people in the village were bringing me recipes. It was very funny. It was a great time making this book.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What did you learn about your Greek ancestry along this journey?
Debbie Matenopoulos: I don’t know if there was anything I learned, but every summer growing up, we went back to Greece. I spend a lot of my youth there. But I think what I rediscovered and fell in love with again and began to appreciate even more at an older age now, is how welcoming my culture is. It’s hospitality. It’s about hospitality and always making your guests feel welcome, no matter what. There are certain recipes in the book that I say, “This is a dessert that all Greek people will always have on hand at their homes just in case someone stops by for coffee.”
That doesn’t happen much in the States anymore where someone just stops by. Usually people call and don’t show up unannounced. In Greece, that still happens all the time when someone knocks on your door on Sunday after church. The whole family comes and says, “We’re here for coffee.” (laughs) You say, “Of course. Come in.” Their doors will always be open, and they really love that part of entertaining and welcoming people into their homes, and I love that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You studied journalism, Debbie?
Debbie Matenopoulos: I majored in journalism in college. That was my degree.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why did you decide on an entertainment career?
Debbie Matenopoulos: My first job was as a journalist. I worked for Barbara Walters. That was my first job. The View was under the ABC news blanket. That wasn’t meant to be entertainment. It just turned into entertainment. We were under the news blanket. It wasn’t soft. It turned into that. The year I started, it was all political. Clinton had just gotten into office. It was a big political year. A lot of it was politics. That was just kind of where my career went. I don’t think I actually sought it out.
When I was going to NYU, I was working at MTV news, so it was entertainment news, but nonetheless, it was news. It was just very soft sort of stuff, and it just went that way. I think that when you’re starting out, you don’t have much of a choice. It’s not like I could’ve called up Dateline and said, “Hi, I’d like to work here.” They would be like, “Okay. You’re 21 years old. Pick a number.” (laughs) I think you just went where you could go. So I was working at MTV …
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): At 17?
Debbie Matenopoulos: At 17, and a friend of mine, when I was graduating from NYU, said to me, “Why don’t you go and audition for this show they’re doing with Barbara Walters.” I said, “Sure. Okay.” I went in, and I just got the job. There’s really no explanation because 700 other girls were there that definitely had more experience than I had, but for whatever reason, I fit a mold, I think, for somebody they wanted at that time. So I was just at the right place at the right time and was prepared enough for what they wanted, I suppose. But then from there, I went on to do so many different things.
I guess you’re right. It never really was a hard news route, and it wasn’t because I wouldn’t have done hard news. I think it was just that those were the opportunities that were presented to me. But it’s funny you should say that because to this day, I love 60 Minutes, I love Dateline, I love anything like that. Mark (Steines) and I, here at Home & Family, always joke and say, “Well, you know what? Perhaps someday we’ll get that opportunity to work with 60 Minutes.” (laughs) He has that same sort of dream I have about that. There’s something about that kind of news that’s really appealing to me. It’s probably because I have a degree in it. You know what I mean? When you have a degree in something like that, that’s what you set out to do.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Tell me about Home & Family.
Debbie Matenopoulos: It’s a daytime variety show. We have so much fun here. It really is a dream job. We are original programming 52 weeks of the year. I truly believe we have the best cast and crew. I’ve worked at a lot of different places in my career, and of all the places, I really feel like this is a family. We all have the same end goal, and that’s to do the best two hours of television every day that we can do, bring some entertainment and information into people’s lives and hopefully something of value which they can use in their real lives.
We had a veterinarian come on, and he was able to translate what he does into taking care of our own pets at home. One of our call-to-arms is a pet adoption we have every single day on the show. I think it’s so important because one of our goals is to clear all the shelters across America. It’s such a big problem. As much as we can do to alleviate that stress on the shelters and get these animals loving forever homes, we really dedicate ourselves to that. I feel very proud of that. This is a show I’m really proud of. I’m proud of the content, the people we work with, how we represent ourselves as a network and a show and proud of what we share with the world.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): How is Alexandra?
Debbie Matenopoulos: She just turned three! I can’t believe it. It breaks my heart that it goes so fast. Her favorite word’s “No.” She tells me how it’s going to be, where she’s going to go, the whole thing. It’s very funny. She’s so verbal. Her vocabulary is unbelievable. I feel like it was just yesterday that she was learning to talk, and now it’s full on conversations, and I’m just in awe of how quickly her little brain can absorb and how much she learns on a daily basis. It’s really amazing to watch.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Does she already have some favorite foods?
Debbie Matenopoulos: She will eat everything! She has such an amazing palette for a three-year-old. I think it’s also because when she was very young, I introduced her to so many different foods, and I would have her taste everything. She’s generally very open to tasting things, which makes me very happy because I know a lot of kids can be very picky. She’s not at all.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Will the next cookbook be a continuation of It’s All Greek to Me?
Debbie Matenopoulos: It’ll be a continuation of that one, yes, on the Mediterranean diet. It’s the healthiest diet out there. I wouldn’t even call it a diet. It’s really a lifestyle, to be honest with you. Every doctor will tell you that’s what you need to eat to stay alive until you’re 100 years old. But it will be a continuation of all the Mediterranean recipes.
My husband’s Italian, so I thought perhaps we may do “It’s All Italian to Him,” and maybe another will be “It’s All Mediterranean to Us.” It’ll be me, him and the baby, so we’ll do different recipes for your husband, kids and perhaps for the women that might like to eat lighter. It takes time, but it’s a labor of love and the most satisfying thing I’ve ever done. When I hold this book in my hand and think that I poured my entire soul into it for 18 months, it really is very satisfying.
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