To say I’m SUPERPYSCHED would be an understatement. I’ve been given the opportunity to host a cooking series for Disney! Not just Disney, but in the words of my 86-year-old Aunt Gom—who’s been bragging to all her friends—“Helen’s working for the Walt Disney Company, that’s right Walt Disney!” It sounds way cooler coming from her than when I cautiously admit, “Yeah I’m doing this thing for Disney.” As if revealing too much about it could somehow jinx it. Thing is, press releases have gone out, the media has picked it up, and I’m writing my first blog entry for Babble! I’ve recently—as in 48 hours ago—allowed myself to take it all in and be excited…like really excited. Like in a way I haven’t been in a long time…
I’m Helen Cavallo. I was born in Staten Island, New York, and I was raised in that old-fashioned, Catholic-girl way. My mother was Colombian and my father Italian—which is why I learned to shout before I learned to speak—and I learned to do it in Spanish before English. It was a good, solid, fiery household for me and my sister, Grace—a great writer, my best friend, and my unofficial [read: unpaid] copy editor. I’ve had the good fortune to live in different places and wear different hats in my life. And I’ve gotten to work with some great people along the way. But my passion—the fire in my belly—has always been food. Yeah, that thing that brings people together…that encourages too-many-people-at-too-small-a-table, to sit and eat, but you make do. Food: It has been a main character throughout my life. In my family, when we sit down to eat lunch we’re talking about what we’re going to make for dinner. Normal, right?
I come from a long line of great cooks who believe the best cooking happens when love is the main ingredient. It’s the thing that makes everything taste better. (This, I know, is scientifically proven…somewhere).
My cooking show is called That’s Fresh: Recipes so Easy, You’re Laughing. Why laughing? The title stems from many a long-distance phone conversation I’ve had with my sister (she’s in New York, I’m in Los Angeles). Grace—more of an eater than a chef—often calls with sudden inspiration:
Grace: “I’m thinking of making a roast chicken. ”Helen: “Oh yeah? Here’s what you do…step one, step two, step three…and you know what step four is? You’re sitting at the table with your roast chicken laughing ’cause it was so easy.”
This is what my show is about. There are no difficult recipes or instructions. I won’t bog you down with too many details. Cooking should be simple and fun. And once you get to know me, you’ll see how easy it is…a sprinkle of this and a touch of that, and you’ll be making these recipes on your own.
I have a catering company, Food & Bounty, and I often think how I have the greatest job in the world. I mean, I get to play with food. Like, really? I go to the market, I source what’s best, then I prepare it minimally and just let the ingredients speak for themselves. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing someone’s reaction when they bite into something simple yet wonderful, say, an awesomely ripe tomato. A little sprinkle of olive oil and a touch of salt later, and then that thing happens…that spark of recognition that says, this tastes like the tomatoes from my grandmother’s garden when I was a kid. I like to call it a “Ratatouille moment”—to be transformed to a really happy time and place with just one bite!
I know I’ve been blessed. And as I sit here writing, I’m reminded just how much. There is a miniature gold-colored Mickey Mouse statuette in front of me—my prized possession. He sits by my desk and watches over me. He was a gift from my mom from our first trip to Disneyworld when I was seven. She died three years later. Mickey’s a little tarnished and worn but his spirit and beaming face are intact. He’s a reminder of the dreams I’ve had since I was a little girl, the ones that made me the woman I am today. The woman who dared to dream that she could make a living by making people happy just by cooking for them…the one who now has a cooking show with the Walt Disney Company!
I can’t say enough how happy I am. You’ll be seeing more of me and hopefully I’ll be hearing from you. Thanks for reading, thanks for sharing, and thanks for dreaming!