There are celebrity couples who are parents, and then there are cool celebrity-couple parents – the kind who radiate both awesomeness and lovingness in equal measure. Such parents tend to reach the inner five-year-old of everyone they meet, making them wish these were the people, back in the day, who taught them how to tie their sneakers. Tamra Davis and Mike D., the director of films such as Billy Madison and TV shows such as Everybody Hates Chris (her), and the Beastie Boy (him) – also the parents of Davis, six, and Skyler, four – fit this profile perfectly. From their Manhattan apartment, they talked with Babble in split shifts recently about “The Tamra Davis Cooking Show,” Davis’s very viral self-shot video series; the dark side of The Food Network; and the importance of skateboarding while you can.
—Tammy La Gorce
You two are hugely busy – the Beasties have been touring and, Tamra, you’ve just written a cookbook, Make Me Something Good To Eat (Lulu), which is sort of an offshoot of your very popular family-themed internet cooking show. What’s your home life like? Chaos?
Davis: I’ve been busy all morning editing a documentary on Jean-Michel Basquiat. And Mike just got back from yoga. He’s working on the computer, so we’ll have to holler at him when he needs to answer a question.
Davis: I started filming it right after I had Skyler, my second child. I kind of realized I needed to keep myself creative as a filmmaker, and I found that when you’re having kids you’re thinking about food a lot at home. And then you start getting involved in bake sales and pot lucks. You get yourself involved with a lot of cooking things when you have kids.
The show is so widespread online, I’m surprised it hasn’t been picked up by The Food Network. Are you?
Davis: No. I’ve watched The Food Network a lot. On all the shows they have bright lights and people with big smiles, and I’m not the kind of person to do that. And nobody’s looking out for my health or my butt or my kids’ health on The Food Network – everything’s fattening. They have that show with the African-American couple making the worst food for you on the planet, for one. The kind of recipes I was looking for, I was trying to keep myself and my kids healthy. That’s why I started the show – I wasn’t finding what I was looking for. I thought, there must be some kind of alternative. As much as I appreciate The Food Network for having a network devoted to food, I don’t appreciate the way it promotes an irresponsible way of eating.
One of the best things about the cooking show is the “combo meal” concept, where you cook one thing for grown-ups and use the same ingredients to make a more kid-friendly meal, like the episode where you do breakfast burritos for adults and scrambled eggs for kids. How did you come up with that?
Davis: It’s funny – a lot of that comes from being a director. Your mind is constantly thinking of the most efficient and best way to do something.
The show is about finding ways to fix good-for-you family meals. Are your kids incredibly good eaters?
Davis: I think they do better than most kids. But I’m amazed at how some of my friends can get their kids to eat things – I think, Oh, my kids would never eat that! It’s not easy to get kids to eat new things. I sit with them, and they know they’re not going to get cookies and milk if they don’t eat well. I think a lot of people get lazy when they feed kids. Because it takes effort.
Do you ever give them junk food?
Davis: They know what junk food is. I just try to give them food that tastes good, that they like. And they’re vegetarian more adamantly than we are. My son went to a friend’s house, and the mom told me, ‘Your son asked me over and over, is the hot dog meat?’ Davis will eat fish. But Skyler’s adamant even with fish.
You and Mike D. don’t eat meat, only fish. And you’re healthy in other ways, too. You both do yoga, right?
Davis: Yeah, ashtanga. I do it and he goes out every day to a class. It’s good for him, keeps him in shape. He’s 43 and looks like a kid.
What about you? You’ve said on your show that you became a mom kind of late in life.
Davis: Yeah, I’m 45. I see a lot of moms my age with small kids in Tribeca and Malibu, though. And those moms look good.
“The cute moments are genuine, as well as the pandemonium.” Back to the cooking show: It’s fun how you have the kids helping with recipes, how you show in an unscripted way what’s really happening around your house.
Davis: That’s one of the things I love about doing it. Even when they’re not there helping me, the kids see me in the kitchen. That’s a nice image for them to have of their mom – they’ll think, ‘Oh, my mom’s a good cook.’ When you make the effort to really cook something instead of just opening a can, it shows your child you care.
The show is on the web only – YouTube and your site, Tamradavis.com, as well as a bunch of other sites that have picked it up. So how are you making money from it?
Davis: I don’t! The only way I make money from it is by selling cookbooks. What’s kind of nice, though, is that I get free products – if I need a pan or something I can usually get it free. And the other thing that’s great about it is hearing from moms all over the world. They’ll write me and say, ‘I cooked with my two-year-old son the first time because of you.’ That makes you cry. It’s also good that I have a husband who likes the show.
Speaking of, can we holler at him?
Davis: Yes, let’s holler at him.
Mike D., welcome to the Q&A. What is your favorite thing Tamra makes?
D: Hmm … she makes this granola. It’s a concoction of oats and nuts and coconut. And I think there’s a secret weapon in there and it’s sesame seeds. She also puts raisins if you request it, which I do. It’s a morning staple for sure, with fruit and rice milk.
Davis: But what about my fancy dinners?
D: She does make fancy dinners, too. She can be fancy-pantsy if she wants, and that has its place in our house, too.
What about the show itself? Do you watch? What do you like about it?
D: I like how it’s very real and everything that happens in it happens in real time. You actually get to see the kids and the process of preparing food in the time constraints of a modern family household. The cute moments are genuine, as well as the pandemonium.
What are the Beasties up to? New album?“When I’m not (working), I’m hanging out with the boys all the time.”
Yeah, we haven’t really solidified the name and etched out other details yet, but we do have a something coming out.
You played Bonnaroo in Tennessee in June, then you’re heading across the river to New Jersey in July for the All Points West Festival. (Editor’s note: this interview was conducted before the early cancellation of the Beastie Boys’ tour.) Will the kids get to see you there?
D: I don’t know, but it will be cool to go to Liberty State Park [site of All Points West] for something other than the Liberty Science Center.
That’s the science museum for kids. Do you take Skyler and Davis there?
D: Yeah, they love it.
Where else do you like to hang out with them?
Q: Liberty Science Center is good for the winter. I also like to take them to Central Park, where they have those natural rock formations. They like to climb those. We also like riding bikes along the river. And we skateboard. I skateboard very poorly. The kids are pretty much better than me at this point. And I think I only have maybe a couple more years where I’m going to surf better than them.
That’s sad. You sound like a pretty hands-on dad, though. Are you?
D: I think I’m just a fortunate dad. Because I don’t have the typical 9-to-5 thing, or the thing most Manhattan dads have in the financial world where it’s 7-to-7. That’s if the financial world even still exists. I’m just very lucky. There are times when I’m working all the time, but when I’m not, I’m hanging out with the boys all the time.
That means you’re hanging out with Tamra’s cameras all the time, too. You’re a guy who’s in front of cameras a lot. Does that ever feel invasive?
D: No. She’s pretty good at discreetly putting the camera in the background. It’s not like it’s paparazzi or anything. The kids don’t notice they’re being filmed while it’s happening, but now and again she shows them something they’re in, and they get excited.
It’s good for them, then, and you, in lots of different ways. Right?
D: It is. It’s really cool.