Food & dining
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    Q & A

    ‘Extra Virgin’: the first family of the Cooking Channel

    David Lang

    As they begin the fifth season of their Cooking Channel series “Extra Virgin,” actress Debi Mazar and her husband, Gabriele Corcos, have found the secret to longevity for the show that chronicles their family’s food, lives, and travels. “There’s no melodrama here,” Mazar says. The outspoken New York native, whose first film was “GoodFellas” and was friends with Madonna, knows a bit about drama.

    On “Extra Virgin,” Mazar, 50, and Corcos, 42, who met 14 years ago in his native Florence, keep things light. Shot in their Brooklyn townhouse and the home in Tuscany that they share with daughters Evelina, 12, and Giulia, 9, the series follows the pair as they trade quips and create recipes inspired by Corcos’s Tuscan roots. Unlike many reality show families, the Mazar-Corcos clan does it all without a single meltdown. “At the end of the day we’re not making ‘Gone With the Wind.’ One production company was trying to create melodrama. [We told them] you’re not Scorsese and this is about food,” Mazar says. “We are a very normal family,” Corcos adds. The series spawned a cookbook, “Extra Virgin: Recipes and Love From Our Tuscan Kitchen.”

    Q. How do you describe “Extra Virgin”?

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    Debi Mazar: It’s almost like “Green Acres” meets “I Love Lucy.”

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    Gabriele Corcos: The food is like the skeleton that holds all the stories that we tell. All the rest is all our love and comedy and family and travel.

    Q. Are people surprised at how normal your family life is?

    Mazar: I think what they’re surprised about is that I don’t have the flashy setup. I’ve got by for years without having agents. I don’t have a nanny. I don’t have an assistant. We cook every night for our family. People will say, “Why are you taking the subway?” Why wouldn’t I take the subway? What, should I take a [expletive] Uber?

    Corcos: One of the reasons for the success of the show is that we’re really telling a story that comes from our roots. She brings in the American sassiness and New York attitude. And I grew up on a farm. The best compliment we get is when we’re out on the street and people stop to talk with us and they say, “Wow, you’re just like on the show. It’s like it’s absolutely the same and you’re wearing the same stuff.”

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    Q. Describe your style of cooking.

    Corcos: When I arrived in the States I realized that the perception of Italian food was very wide. You have on one side of the spectrum the all you-can-eat-pasta, which is not Italian. On the other side you have the high-end, upscale Italian, which is not really the common Italian. We eat regular food. We use seasonal produce. We use stale bread. We dry beans. We can eat on a budget very well.

    Mazar: That’s not to say we don’t splurge. But for the most part we try to keep it humble. I think it’s the way that we were brought up.

    Q. When did you become serious about food?

    Corcos: The truth is in the very beginning when I moved to Los Angeles with Deborah, she was working on a one-hour drama for CBS and she was shooting a movie in Toronto on weekends and I never saw her. I felt my time spent alone waiting for her to be back from Canada had to be dedicated to get ready for the kid. So I started putting together all the recipes I remembered and all the things I wanted to tell young fathers.

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    Mazar: It was called the “Tuscan Cookbook for the Pregnant Male.”

    Corcos: It was sort of a manual, recognizing that this new generation of fathers had to spend time in the kitchen, had to spend time in the house. We tried to show it to people. But food entertainment wasn’t really where it is now.

    Q. How did you get from there to the show?

    Corcos: YouTube launched and we had this camera that was given to us for our wedding. One day at lunch we were cooking and said, “Why don’t we film it and put it on this new website and see what happens?”

    Mazar: He was just such a natural on camera. There were moments when I couldn’t go to work toward the end of my pregnancy. I was like, you know what, get in front of the camera and I’m going to direct you. We would have so much fun together. It ended up becoming a weekly thing and we amassed 50 or 60 videos. We were just doing it for fun and that’s how the Cooking Channel found us. They said, “Hey we’re starting a new network. Would you guys like to be like the first family of the Cooking Channel?” We were like, yeah.

    Season 5 of “Extra Virgin” premieres on Jan. 7 at 9 p.m. on the Cooking Channel.

    Interview was condensed and edited. Michael Floreak can be reached at michaelfloreak@gmail.com.