Q&A: Bryn Mawr native Hope Cohen, TV cooking show host

Hope Cohen with chef John Mims.
Hope Cohen with chef John Mims. HOPE COHEN

Hope Cohen never considered a career in cooking.

Hope Cohen with chef John Mims. Gallery: Q&A: Bryn Mawr native Hope Cohen, TV cooking show host

More than 25 years later, Cohen has carved herself a reputation as a local food personality. After a brief stint in real estate, Cohen, 48, returned to cooking after teaching classes to neighbors and fellow Bryn Mawr parents. The mother of two eventually observed and worked with top Philadelphia restauranteurs like Neil Stein, Jose Garces and Cuba Libre concept Chef Guillermo Pernot before hosting "The Chef's Kitchen," (formerly "The Fretz Kitchen") on Comcast's CN8 from 2000 to 2005.

Cohen recently returned to television with her own show on Comcast – "Fast, Fresh and Simple with Hope Cohen," which airs its fifth episode on Tuesday, Nov. 15 at 5:30 p.m., its regular time slot. 

The TV host spoke with Neighbors Main Line to discuss her career, the show and her upcoming cookbook.

Q: You went from catering to teaching classes and working with top local chefs. What was it like to transition to television?

Hope Cohen: It was like a dream. On "Chef's" I worked side-by-side with world-renowned chefs and got paid for it. I worked with Philadelphia chefs like Georges Perrier and Garces, New York chefs like Eric Ripert and Washington D.C. chef Roberto Donna, whom I think is one of the finest chefs. They were all incredible, and it was like having my own private cooking lesson.

I also have so many wonderful memories. For example, I worked with José Andrés, who owns a lot of restaurants and has cooking shows in Spain and the United States. The first cooking show he filmed was with me, which, looking back on it is kind of exciting because he was so nervous and no idea what he was doing. And now he's this huge cooking star.

Q: What was your favorite cooking technique or recipe you learned on the show?

Cohen: I've always loved Italian food and cooking. I've worked with Marc Vetri on "Chef's" and when he first opened his restaurant Vetri. I remember it being such a thrill getting to cook with him and make pasta from scratch and refine my technique.

It was a joy working with Perrier. He's such an incredible master of French cooking and I loved being able to watch his technique and learn from him. I could say that about all the chefs, so I don't think I could pin point one favorite thing I learned.

Q: Tell us how you got started with your current show.

Cohen: For the last five years I've worked on this cookbook, and its title in my mind was "Fast, Fresh and Simple," which is my style of cooking. I was a busy mom, juggling all of these jobs, and simultaneously wanting to cook fresh and wholesome meals for me and my two kids, but I often didn't know what I'd cook until late in the day. After deciding, I'd go to the supermarket and grab ingredients. That's also how I developed the recipes I would teach in my class because the women and men I taught had similar busy lifestyles.

While working on the book, I was also developing a show for Comcast with a different concept. One day when I was in my car, I thought, "why not just do a cooking show that goes along with the recipes from the book?"

I went to Comcast and pitched that to them, not sure if they'd go for it since this was the first time I was doing my own show. Everybody loved the idea, and that's how "Fast, Fresh and Simple with Hope Cohen" was born.

Q: How is the show different from "Chef's Kitchen"?

Cohen: As with the book, the recipes are a bit more sophisticated than the 30-minute meal concept, a bit more local, organic and natural...more true to the ingredients. With my style of cooking, if you're starting out with really fresh ingredients, you don't have to manipulate them for a great taste.

As for the show itself, I wanted to have creative control because I never had creative input with "Chef's," so I now produce it. It's been a fun and interesting experience working both behind and in front of the camera.

Q: What's the status of the cookbook?

Cohen: It's not 100 percent complete, but I'm talking to a few different publishers at the moment. The "Fast, Fresh and Simple" website went live recently, and in addition to having video and recipes, there's a page there that takes viewer's e-mail addresses so I can contact them when the book is finished.

Q: Does the show or book offer resources to people just starting to explore local ingredients?

Cohen: I plan on having a section in the book with online resources. One website I like is Buy Fresh Buy Local. You can go online and find out where all the farmer's markets are in the Philadelphia area every day of the week.

Since I consider myself an advocate for local farmers and growers, another thing I'd like to do if the show continues after our first 18 weeks is include video segments with local growers and go on location to see what they're doing. People are making their own cheese, growing fruits and vegetables...there's so much going on in our region now. It's new and different. It was always happening in California, and now it's been developing on the east coast.

Q: Do you think your style of cooking has changed?

Cohen: I think my cooking has a lighter focus now. I love food and cooking, but I also want to stay healthy for myself and my kids. I've learned that one does not have to sacrifice flavor for things to be prepared in a healthier way. For example, I would never say I don't use butter or heavy cream in any of my cooking, but I definitely choose extra virgin olive oil over butter and am judicious with my use of cream. Both, however, have their place in my kitchen.