G. Garvin cooks up fun, looks for the one

Gerry Garvin struts down the aisle with a black chef's smock, sunglasses, knee-length khaki shorts and clogs to deliver a cooking presentation at a health fair at a local church.

As he prepares to make four dishes featuring cherry tomatoes, including ones with clams, mussels, and Chilean sea bass, a woman in the audience begins walking toward the back of the church.


"Where you going?" he asks as he prepares the pan with oil. "Don't walk out when I'm trying to do my thing!"

Garvin, who is in his late 30s and lives in Los Angeles, does his thing most days on TV One's Turn Up the Heat with G. Garvin.


These days though, he's a highly sought-after chef who has a book by the same name. He's been with TV One since 2004, but his magic in the kitchen began long before his television persona.

His mother, who worked at a home for the elderly in Atlanta, took Garvin to work with her to keep him out of trouble. There, he worked in the kitchen, where he peeled potatoes, carrots and onions, and washed dishes.

His love of cooking took off from there.

In 2001, he opened a restaurant, G. Garvin's, in Los Angeles, which is now closed. The cookbook Turn Up the Heat was published last year.

We sat with Garvin, who appeared in Baltimore recently, to talk about the adventures of becoming a celebrity chef.

You are one of the only African-American chefs with a cooking show. How did you do it?

I think it was just the next stage for me in my career. I had worked in several hotels and restaurants as an executive chef. After I opened my own restaurant, I had a meeting with TV One, and I just had several ideas that worked.

What kinds of pressures do you have as an African-American chef?


I think there are some pressures because there are a lot of people watching me, and for the guys they want to see you "keep it real." For the ladies, you got to be elegant, and then just for our culture I need to represent us in a positive way.

Where you grew up, how does that inform the kind of food you make?

I grew up in Atlanta, in the South, but I lived in California for the last 17 years, so what I do is I try to marry the two. So I try to mix the South with a little bit of California.

How do you make soul food stand out? Or how do you make it universal?

I think soul food is one of those things you leave alone, but you have the freshest possible ingredients, like chicken, catfish and shrimp, buy everything fresh and use the best ingredients. Like for greens, I use turkey bacon with my greens -- I use the freshest possible greens. Fresh is the best thing for soul food.

How do you make it appeal to a wide audience?


It's one of those things that it doesn't take a lot of promoting. A lot of white America is interested, and they have just been afraid to try it. So once you introduce it to them, it's always been around, it's just a matter of making people feel like it's OK to eat it.

What do you like to do when you're not cooking?

I like to work out, I like to ride bikes, and I love to write. I love writing. Writing is a secret passion of mine. I love writing and reading. I enjoy writing articles. I am working on my autobiography. I wrote an article in Ebony called "Where Have Our Black Men Gone?" It talks about being more responsible, being role models.

How did growing up with a single mother and five sisters inform your cooking?

It had a big influence on me because in the South that's what we did: We came home, did our homework, cleaned the house and cooked. So it gave me the opportunity to grow really close to my sisters and understand the sensitive side of life, because it was in my face all day every day.

As the only boy, were you resistant to it?


It was a natural force of life, that's how I grew up. I don't know what it's like to have brothers. What you learn is how to understand women.

How have the men, generally speaking, received you?

Like black men -- everything we don't understand, we are resistant to in the early stages, but I think I have begun bridging the gap between men who did and men who did not cook.

A lot of people look at cooking as a necessary chore. Do you feel that way about the day-to-day cooking that you do?

I think it's a family responsibility. I don't think anybody wants to do anything that they have to do every day. I certainly don't. I wake up in the morning, I make myself some egg whites, and maybe saute some shrimp and avocado, but that's not work for me. I don't mind it, but if I felt like I needed to do it every day on a schedule, it would probably be a little bit more difficult.

What makes your show different from other cooking shows?


I just kind of keep it natural, I just say what's on my mind.

What do you listen to as you cook?

Top five -- Robin Thicke, Usher, Jay-Z, Corrine Bailey Rae, The Game -- depending on what I'm making. I always start it out with Usher because "You Don't Have to Call" is a track that got me through a real tough time when I broke up with my girlfriend, so that's my theme song.

Are you looking to settle down?

Absolutely, I want to get married this year. I mentioned to a couple of friends of mine that '07 is the year I find the one. I will find her this year.