Sara Moulton is an American chef, cookbook author and television personality.
In an article for The New York Times, Kim Severson described Moulton as “one of the nation’s most enduring recipe writers and cooking teachers…and a dean of food television and magazines.”
When Sara Moulton kicked off her ninth season as host of public television’s “Sara’s Weeknight Meals,” in September of 2019, it was the latest milestone in a storied career that stretches back more than 40 years. A restaurant chef for seven years and protégée of Julia Child, Sara was the co-founder of the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance, executive chef of Gourmet magazine, Food Editor of ABC-TV’s ”Good Morning America,” and the host of several well-loved shows on the Food Network during that channel’s first decade. She also wrote a weekly column for the AP for six years and a monthly column for the Washington Post for two. Sara Moulton is also the author of four cookbooks including her most recent, Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better.
Was there someone that had an impact on you that led to your interest in cooking and then getting into the business?
My mother. She was a fantastic cook. She was talented to begin with, but then after she started traveling every year to Europe with a girlfriend following up with a dinner party around the food of the country she had just visited, she got even better. Since we lived in New York and she owned the New York Times Cookbook, she was able to source the ingredients and find the recipes that at the time (the 60’s) seemed exotic – spanakopita, paella, veal saltimbocca, pot au feu. I was her sous chef. I loved cooking for those dinner parties.
While attending the University of Michigan, I tried to figure out a career with no success. A year after I graduated, I was working in the kitchen at a bar in Ann Arbor, slinging burgers, and my mother took matters into her own hands (without asking me), writing to both Julia Child and Craig Claiborne (the author of the New York Times Cookbook) to ask them what her daughter should do if she wanted to become a chef. Craig wrote her back and said I should go to cooking school. I applied to the CIA and much to my surprise they accepted me. That was the best decision of my life.
Can you talk about some of the mentors along the way that had an impact on your career?
There is no question that the luckiest break of my career was connecting with Julia Child. I volunteered to work on her PBS show in the late ‘70s when I was working in restaurants in Boston and Julia hired me to come on board to do food styling (something I had no experience with- but I lied, wouldn’t you?) and help develop recipes. It was a three-month two-day a week gig, and an excellent starter course on how to do food tv. It also blossomed into a lifelong relationship.
Julia helped me get an apprenticeship in France and then a job in a three-star restaurant when I moved to New York; she is the reason I started working at GMA, first to do her prep and then on-air appearances. She was both a mentor and another mother. She was also one of the forces behind the Boston Women’s Culinary Guild, an organization a bunch of us founded in 1980, the blueprint for the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance, founded several years later.
Jacques Pepin is another huge influence. After I interviewed him on the radio in Boston (a one-off opportunity a friend set up for me) about his first book, La Technique, I was lucky to work with him several times, when he came in as a guest chef to the restaurant I worked at in New York and we became friends. There is no greater food technician than Jacques.
Finally, Jean Anderson really guided me through the world of food writing and recipe testing. I met her through my parents and went on several trips with her as her “photographic assistant” (something I also knew nothing about, but she taught me) to Brazil, Portugal and Holland. When I did my live call-in show on the food network and didn’t know the answer to a question – she was my red phone – she always knew the answer.
Charitable organizations are important to you, tell us about your work with them.
Well, since I am a one-woman band (do not have a whole team to cook masses amounts of food at charity events), I mainly volunteer my time. I have frequently been a judge for the culinary finals of C-CAP, an organization that helps high school students get generous scholarships to cooking schools. I have participated as a celebrity “sous chef,” for many years at an annual event called SHARE which raises money for cancer research for women. I have also been a speaker for various charitable organizations as well as PBS stations.
The New York Women’s Culinary Alliance (NYWCA) is celebrating its 38th anniversary this year. How did it start?
The NYWCA was supposed to be a junior branch of another women’s culinary group, Les Dames D’Escoffier, Les Dames was a group you had to apply to get in and you needed to have years in the field before you could apply. I was asked to set up the junior version by the founder of Les Dames, Carol Brock, but the Dames’ board did not approve, so my good friend, Gourmet food editor, Maria Reuge and I went out and formed our own group in 1982, called The New York Women’s Culinary Alliance. The NYWCA differed from Les Dames in that we would accept anyone who worked full time in the industry and lived in the tri- state area, even if they had just graduated from cooking school. The point of the group was simple: networking and education.
How has the Alliance changed?
NYWCA President Rhadia Hursey and the board of directors have made a conscious effort to recruit the next generation of Alliance members. They have used social media to increase the profile of the Alliance and to recruit a more diverse group of women. Today, one-fifth of the Alliance are women of color, and we hope to grow that number even more next year. The Alliance is also offering more diverse programs in locations such as Harlem and Brooklyn.
What are some of the challenges facing the Alliance?
We are working on new ways to involve our members for our volunteer-based programs that will be meaningful to them. We’ve created diverse events that appeal to our members including cooking classes, happy hours and business skills workshops. In fact, I just kicked off our new Global Dinner Series with a focus on French cuisine. I demoed a French apple tart, and then shared a French meal, family-style.
Tell us about the projects you are working on now.
Currently, besides getting ready for the next season of my PBS show, I co-host a weekly segment on Chris Kimball’s Milk Street Radio and write a quarterly column for the University of Michigan’s Alumni Magazine.
Crystal ball, what’s in store for you?
I’m looking forward to more travel, more books, more cooking for fun and painting watercolors.
To learn more about Sara Moulton, visit her website.