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A Bite With Julianne Moore

Published in Gourmet Live 09.22.10
Kelly Senyei shares the scoop on the Oscar-nominated star’s off-screen life, including family meals and her work with Mario Batali

Julianne Moore is best known for her Oscar-nominated performances on the big screen. But when she’s not busy acting in films like this year’s The Kids Are All Right, she devotes her time to a second passion, food.

“When I’m not on a film set, my life is really about my family,” she adds. And high on the list is preparing those nightly meals when everyone shares the experience of cooking and eating together. The actress cooks in her warm, kid-friendly kitchen, where she pursues art in a different way than on the big screen. Moore whips up simple, classic dishes on her own, and she’s happy to play sous-chef to the family’s other gourmand, her writer-director husband Bart Freundlich.

Moore’s appreciation of food stretches back to her childhood. As an Army brat, she often moved to new places and it was her mother’s cooking that gave her a taste of home. “Mom was a much better cook than I am, actually,” she says. “I’m a little pedestrian by comparison. But whenever I downplay my talents as a cook, my kids rush to defend me and go, ‘Mommy, you’re great!’”

Moore’s own admiration is reserved for super chef Mario Batali, who asked her to join his Share the Table project sponsored by Barilla Pasta. The initiative raises money for Meals on Wheels and Moore has contributed not only her celebrity wattage, but also her recipe for vegetable lasagna.

Gourmet Live: Did you have family dinners growing up?

Julianne Moore: Every single night. We helped our mother prepare things because we didn’t have the option of going out or having takeout food. But it is so nice when you have the time, and when you take the time, to cook at home and eat together. It makes a big, big difference. And we still all eat together in my family.

GL: Do you have any childhood memories of being in the kitchen?

JM: My mother taught me how to cook, and my sister and I would always start recipes for her. But my mother didn’t buy a lot of cookies, and we weren’t allowed to have candy. She told us that if we made something, then we could eat it, so my sister and I baked really early on. We were probably 8 and 9 years old when we really started baking seriously, and we did it all the way through high school. Everything I made was sweet. I made fudge, thin mints, brownies, lemon meringue pie, fruit pies and cakes. I really was on a baking binge for years and years.

GL: Are you still a big fan of sweets?

JM: I am, but I don’t eat them as much. But my daughter, who is 8, bakes these coconut cookies that actually have very few ingredients, so she makes them completely on her own. I told her what my mother had told me growing up, and I said, “If you can bake the cake, then you can eat it. So there you go!”

GL: Do you think you enjoy food so much because of the memories you associate with it?

JM: Absolutely. Mario [Batali] speaks so beautifully about what food means to us as emotional markers. It’s this idea of creating memories, like during the holidays with traditional recipes. It’s the time when we all eat this special dish that grandma makes. And we do this year after year after year, and it’s that kind of thing that defines us and is meaningful to us. You create a sense of togetherness and love, and even control, in a world that can sometimes seem out of control. It can become something that’s very comforting.

GL: What traditional dishes do you and your family make?

JM: I always make this cornbread around Thanksgiving that everybody loves. It actually has quite a bit of sugar and butter in it—it’s delicious. Everybody loves it and asks for it again and again. I probably make the cornbread at least once a week up until Christmas time when we have it again with our Christmas meal. I also always make my kids’ birthday cakes and lots of soups! We make spinach soup, carrot and chestnut soup and chicken soup.

GL: What kind of restaurants do you like?

JM: I like places that are really casual and family-oriented and more like bistros, rather than formal places. I’m not the kind of person who can eat octopus, so I don’t expect my kids to eat octopus. But as kids get older, their palates can get wider and wider, and my kids are both very concerned about eating organic. My son especially is because he saw the movie Food, Inc. and he came home and said, “That’s it, mommy, I want everything to be organic!”

GL: Do you have any favorite New York City restaurants?

JM: I like a sushi restaurant called Tomoe. For pizza, we love Otto [Mario Batali’s pizzeria] because it’s very family-oriented. We love Bar Pitti, Piccolo Angolo and Pastis. And there’s a great place on Prince Street called Shorty’s that serves great American bistro food.

GL: We hear you’re very talented at making vegetable lasagna. What’s your secret?

JM: My vegetable lasagna is so great because it’s all in one pan. And any dish that’s all in one pan is really my favorite thing to do because I have a real difficulty with timing.

GL: What is the most underrated ingredient?

JM: I’d have to say butter. I honestly feel like everything is better with a little butter on it.

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