What was your first big break on TV? How were you discovered?
"I was doing a ton of national stuff and lots of television when my first book [From Tapas to Meze, 1994] came out. I put all of the clips from that together on one tape, and a friend who worked at KQED-TV San Francisco heard about the tape and said she’d love to look at it. Once she saw it, I immediately heard back from three producers. I had already been offered a Food Network show, but I had always loved Jacques and Julia because they were amazing teachers. They were my heroes. I’d watched them since the time I was very young, especially Julia, so I really wanted to go in the [public television] direction and not the Food Network direction. I talked with the three producers at KQED, and I felt so lucky to get that station interested in a series."
What are some of the best recipes you’ve made on-air, and why?
"We did this Tuscan pork, a dish that I learned in Florence, Italy, where you take a tenderloin of pork and put on fennel pollen, rosemary and sage—the same herbs and spices in porchetta—and roll it in olive oil and sauces, stuff it into a hollowed baguette and tie it up. You want to put this on the top shelf of the oven so that it gets crispy on the outside. You don’t want the bread to steam. I use an instant-read thermometer to get to 150 or 155 degrees and let the pork get nice and juicy inside. My new show, Joanne Weir’s Cooking Class, has students on with me, so I am really teaching, and you can judge how successful a dish is."
Are the students surprised by how easy or difficult it is to make certain dishes?
"I had a fireman on the show, and he was so excited to do a risotto. If you can make a basic risotto then you can make 1,000 risottos. One tip I learned in Italy, outside of Verona, was the five-minute trick for risotto: You get it just beyond the al dente stage and add a ladleful of broth or butter or flavoring. Then take it off of the heat and let it sit for five minutes. It renders the creamiest, most amazing risotto. I also remind students that risotto doesn’t wait for you, you wait for it.