TV's `Galloping Gourmet' goes for a lighter touch

September 27, 2006|By ROB KASPER

A campground in Anne Arundel County seemed an unlikely place to find "the Galloping Gourmet." Yet when the door to the recreational vehicle swung open and I heard that cheery British accent, I was transported back to my days spent in front of a black-and-white television watching Graham Kerr swashbuckle and crack wise as one of television's first celebrity chefs.

He is grayer now, 72 years old and more subdued than the rollicking, swaggering character of his 1968-1971 cooking show. Its reruns pop up from time to time on the Food Network. But he is still welcoming and lively.

When he pulled out his prized saute pan and whipped up some lamb curry, it was apparent that he still has the master's touch.

But now it is a lighter touch. Back in his Galloping Gourmet days, the lamb serving would be twice as large and browned in an ocean of butter. Now it is browned in the saute pan, mixed with edemame and carrots cooked in an alcohol-free wine. At the last moment, Kerr stirred in some arrowroot.

"Food is still a central part of my life. I think about it every day, but my attitude toward it has changed," Kerr said. As the Galloping Gourmet, he said, he performed with food, "jumping over a chair while holding a glass of wine."

Now he sees his cooking as part of an effort to lead a simpler life, to work with his hands, to help others. In cooking and in many areas of his life, Kerr preaches a gospel of smaller portions, of making do with less.

He and his wife, Treena, have been traveling around North America since June in a 39-foot-long Fleetwood Discovery recreational vehicle. They stop at KOA campgrounds (Kampground of America) and deliver a low-key address to fellow campers on their philosophy of "outdulgence." Basically they urge people to eliminate one detrimental habit - smoking, for instance - and to give the money formerly spent on that habit to a worthy cause.

Intertwined with this approach are the Kerrs' recommendations for living well, forged they say from their good and bad experiences. Four cornerstones of the program, called LifeStyle #9, recommend walking 9,000 steps a day, getting nine hours of sleep, eating nine fruits and vegetables and performing nine compassionate acts each day.

The full agenda is detailed in a TV program, The Gathering Place, in a boxed set of 10 DVDs sold for $100 on the Kerrs' Web site (grahamkerr.com).

Giving lectures at KOA campsites, using what Treena has called the "Johnny Appleseed approach," is unconventional but it seems to fit with the Kerrs' outlook and history.

They are devout, nondenominational Christians, and their decision to take their message and home on the road is one of many they have made after "talking things out with God."

"You are speaking to people who seem to have the time to listen," Kerr said. "At these KOA campsites you get people from all walks of life."

With virtually no advance notice other than a posting at the campsite bulletin board, their gatherings have "drawn as few as two and as many as 250," he said. They give a short talk and take questions from the audience. Some audiences, Kerr said, have been disappointed that he does not cook for them.

The Kerrs are itinerant types. Their mobile home is their 30th home in their 51 years of marriage. They bought a mansion on the Eastern Shore in 1971 for $240,000 after running aground in a sailboat at the junction of Peach Blossom Creek and Tred Avon River in Talbot County.

They sold the house and the contents at auction several years later and moved to Colorado to set up what turned out to be a failed attempt to establish a Rocky Mountain retreat for married couples.

As a young man, Graham, following the lead of his father, worked in English hotels and advanced his culinary training in the British army, eventually moving to New Zealand, where he served as a catering adviser to the Royal New Zealand Air Force.

In New Zealand, he debuted as a TV personality. Transferred to Australia, he starred in a TV show there called Eggs With Flight Lieutenant Kerr. They then moved to Canada where The Galloping Gourmet, directed by his wife, took off.

In 1971, disaster struck. While traveling in California, filming episodes of the show, the couple were seriously injured in a traffic accident. They quit filming, bought a 71-foot boat and sailed with their three children around the world. It was that boat, The Treena, that later ran aground in Talbot County.

During the ocean voyage, Kerr got seasick so often that he decided to change his cooking style to avoid rich foods.

Treena's subsequent health problems also motivated the Kerrs to change their diets.

Playing host and hostess in their parked mobile home, the Kerrs look fit. He prepares meals 10 servings at a time on the three-burner propane-powered stove.

Then he freezes single servings in plastic bags, stores them in the freezer and pulls them out on the road. The lamb curry he served me in Millersville was made in Detroit.

Once a bon vivant and big wine drinker, Kerr said he now cooks with alcohol-free wine. "Treena can't drink wine," he said. "If I am offered a glass of well-made wine, I am deeply grateful for the work of the winemaker, but now I enjoy about half a glass."

There are a few other food projects on the horizon for Kerr. He is collaborating on a project in Seattle called Day to Day, designed to help low-income families prepare nutritionally balanced frozen meals.

He gives guest lectures at Johnson & Wales cooking schools. He has finished a cookbook, due out next year.

The Kerrs told me they were next headed south. Along the way they plan to deliver their campfire message that we are consuming "unwise quantities of unwise food." But every day at 4 p.m., they stop for tea.

rob.kasper@baltsun.com

Podcasts featuring Rob Kasper are available at baltimoresun.com/kasper.

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