Monday, January 18, 2010

Lucinda Scala Quinn: Work, Life, and Spurtles

If Martha Stewart was interviewing you for a job in her company and asked, “Do you have any management experience?” how would you respond? After thinking for a moment, Lucinda Scala Quinn responded to that question with honesty: “if you consider raising a family of five in New York City on a freelance budget…then yes, I have management experience..” That was a response that helped land Lucinda Scala Quinn a position with Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, overseeing food for television.

Fast forward a little over ten years and Lucinda’s role with the company has definitely changed. As the Executive Editorial Director for Food at MSLO, she now oversees the entire food operation for the company. But wait; that’s not all. Lucinda hosts her own radio show, “Eat Drink” on Martha Stewart Living Radio (Sirius 112/XM 157), Co-hosts the PBS series “Everyday Food,” has regular appearances on NBC’s Today Show, contributes to both Martha Stewart Living magazine and Everyday Food magazine, AND this last fall, released her third cookbook, “Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys.” In addition, she keeps followers up to date through Twitter, Facebook, and regularly updates her blog, “Mad Hungry.”

To say Lucinda is passionate about food is an understatement. She began cooking professionally in her teen years and has worked in a variety of food related jobs including cooking teacher, caterer, chef, and food writer before landing her position with MSLO.

I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with Lucinda when her extensive book tour brought her to Michigan last fall. I knew just one minute into her presentation that I wanted to do a feature interview with her for House Blend. Lucinda graciously accepted the invite to do just that.

When did you develop your passion for food?

I grew up in a big Italian family, which means food, love and fun were all intertwined from my earliest memories.

What inspires you as a cook?

Films, books, folklore, museums, markets, gardens. Everyday sights, scents, sounds and conversations.

What makes for a good food story in Martha Stewart Living or Everyday Food?

Where inspiration, aspiration and ‘how-to’ collide in a potentially visually arresting, clearly organized idea. Sophisticated simplicity means a story on rice is as compelling as a holiday feast.

Lucinda on the set of Everyday Food
Photo courtesy of Martha Stewart Living

How are recipes developed for MSLO?

Recipes start with a clearly defined umbrella concept and idea for a story narrative whether large or small. The food editor draws on personal experience, research, reading, travel and interviews to construct a balanced list of recipe ideas that attempt to hit several notes in a story so there is something for every reader to find a point of entry on. Cooking and tasting happen in the test kitchen until a collection of delicious and representative dishes/recipes are complete and ready to be photographed along with a creative team.

Work/life balance, it is said, is essential for success. How do you balance your duties as an editorial director, a television co-host, an author, and a wife/mother?

My family is my priority on a daily basis. With that as a driving presumption, most days all the aspects of my work life dovetail beautifully together with home life. But, this also means there is an occasional overturn in that flow where family prevails. I rise early and enjoy m y home’s early morning in all its craziness; husband, kids, dogs, breakfast, lunch prep, personal chores, etc. and go to work like anyone else (and, I have cultivated a very collaborative group of sons and husband in terms of household/kitchen labor sharing!) Once at the office, unless there is a special event, I prioritize within the day, just tackling one thing after another with enthusiasm and lots of incredible colleagues to work with too. By 6:30PM, I go home for dinner where cooking and gathering with my family and friends around the dinner table is one of my favorite activities and something that also informs my work life. But, if there is a soccer game, play, doctor appointment, family or friend emergency, I will make time to be there; confident in the knowledge that many of these extracurricular activities not only bring personal satisfaction, but also contribute back to my professional performance.

Lucinda and two of her sons during an appearance on the Martha Stewart Show.  Calder (left) toured with Lucinda on her Mad Hungry book tour.  Photo courtesy of Martha Stewart Living

You had a very long book tour for the release of “Mad Hungry: Feeding Men and Boys.” What was your favorite part of doing the book tour?

My favorite part was seeing so many American cities, eating regional food, visiting legendary regional independent bookstores and meeting so many interesting people. Plus, my son, a recent college graduate, toured with me which made the work so much more fun.

And your least favorite part?

4:30AM wake up calls and being camera ready with hair and make-up for TV (not my strong point!)

What would you say are the three absolutely essential tools a person needs in their kitchen?

A 12-inch well seasoned cast iron pan, an all purpose sharp knife (any size or shape as long as it works for you) and a “spurtle” (laughs). But seriously, it’s made of wood and is a cross between a wooden spoon and a spatula. It was originally designed for stirring oatmeal but it’s perfect for stirring, flipping or even stir frying. Three utilities in one!

Lucinda adheres to an over-arching philosophy about food that has stuck with me since meeting her at the book signing: “Cook for the people you love and teach them to cook for themselves. They’ll pass it on.” That, is a true love for cooking and for family.

Lucinda can be seen regularly on the new season of Everyday Food on PBS (check local listings), and every Thursday at 4PM on her radio show, “Eat Drink” on Martha Stewart Living Radio, Sirius 112/XM 157. “Mad Hungry” is available at Barnes and Noble or Amazon, or check with your local bookstore.

Now.. I need to speak with her about one of those great Mad Hungry t-shirts!


Elaine said...

I think I have a 'spurtle'! I just didn't know that is what it is called.

Great interview!

John R. said...

What a great interview! Lucinda always gives that feeling that she's like a good friend that you could sit and chat over coffee for hours! It was fun to be able to meet her, with you, last Fall. If you get a t-shirt, I want one too! ;-)

Pru said...

Another great interview Kenn - let me know when you want to interview me and I'll schedule you in!!!

I love being able to learn more about the people at MSLO and Lucinda always seems so nice and welcoming. I love how she mentioned that family is the most important and she seems to stay true to that despite working for such a hard-working organisation (and boss).


mike said...

I LOVE my spurtles! :) I have 3 - and agree - they're great all-purpose utensils! What a great interview Kenn, and so nice that you met the author in person, brings a personal touch to the writing!

malsdq said...

Lucinda is fabulous! She shares her passion for food, love of cooking and obviously teaching makes her purely joyful and easy to watch. I didn't realize how her career got started and after reading this terrific article have a new found respect learning she raised 5 children, and managed a career. Way to go! Thank you for such a great article.

Lindalea said...

Please, Please, where can I purchase the "spurtel" that you use on your series? I need a special gift for a special Grandaughter that is getting married & is a novice cook. I hope that you can help me out. Thank you,

Kirsten said...

I too would love to know where to purchase a spurtle! Love your show. I've been waiting for something like this. Family Style cooking taught by a REAL person. Lucinda's warmth comes through so naturally. I feel like I know her and that she could be my best friend!
San Ramon, CA

Anonymous said...

I found out that it's called a "spurtula" and I just bought one on-line at Happy cooking!

Anonymous said...

I found my spurtula at