If Debi Mazar was a brand, the Ultimate New Yorker might be it. She's the Martin Scorsese alum who ran with Madonna on the Lower East Side during their salad days, and the East Coast transplant who went on to rule Hollywood as the wildly cursing, take-no-prisoners publicist Shauna Roberts in HBO's Entourage. The big-screen version of the series hits theaters in June.
But Mazar is more layered than her unmistakable Queens accent. Cooking Channel fans know her from Extra Virgin, where she gets real in the kitchen with her Tuscan farmer husband, Gabriele Corcos, and their two daughters, Evelina, 12, and Giulia, 8. The family slices, dices, talks, and tastes together using garden-fresh ingredients and Old World recipes seasoned with laughter and love.
Q. You grew up in the woods? (Mazar lived in upstate New York from ages 7 to 12.)
A. People think of me as this über city girl. Meanwhile, I have this other side of me. My mother was a hippie. It was just me, without access. No Internet. No friends. Walking through the woods. I learned how to garden. We grew our own vegetables. My mom had a health food store near Woodstock, N.Y. The Alice Waters Slow Food movement? My mother was doing all that. So when people are like, "Oh, another celebrity with a cooking show," I'm like, "Step back! I've been doing this farm-to-table thing since 1970!"
Q. Is that why you married an Italian farmer?
A. I was traveling [in 2001] to Italy to stay with a French woman I'd met at Madonna's wedding to Guy Ritchie. She was a classical pianist. Gabriele happened to be working with her that summer as a percussionist. I stayed at her villa. …He walked in the door and I was like, "Who's that?" The rest is history. We fell in love and were never apart again.
Q. How do you make cooking a family affair?
A. Evelina is cool about tasting everything. One tip I'll give: Introduce stronger flavors when your kids are about a year old -- a little garlic, some greens. Put it in their eggs. Add Swiss chard into their mac and cheese. Giulia has been involved in the kitchen since she was 3, using an 8-inch chef's knife. Gabriele taught her to guard her fingers. My husband is not a catastrophist -- I'm Nervous Nelly. He got her interested in cooking. She can make a full meal, whether it's helping with the sauce or doing the chopping.
Q. Pasta, bread, cheese, wine … how do you eat so well and stay fit?
A. I'm 20 pounds heavier than I used to be because of the wine and the carbs! I'm working to bring that down not because I have to -- my husband thinks I look sexy -- but because on camera I look heavier. And I have a lifetime of amazing clothes that I need to fit into. Also, I'm 50. It's that moment in life where it's like: ‘OK, Girl, it's time to get it together!’ The truth is I stopped exercising. So I started again. Besides Entourage, I'm also working on [TV Land's] Younger and I want to be in top form. I'm cutting alcohol. Pasta once a week. Grilled fish and chicken, salad and vegetables. More fruit. My secret is sleep and cardio!
Q. If either of your girls wanted to become an actor, would you encourage it?
A. I'm into letting them do what they want to do -- but I'd prefer they didn't get into acting. We all need a job. I wouldn't stop them. It's not what I want for them, but fine. My mother never stopped me from pursuing my dream. And my husband went to medical school to become a neurosurgeon. His father is a top brain surgeon in Italy. After 6 years in med school Gabriele was so unhappy. He booked a ticket to Brazil to study conga playing. And he changed his life.
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