Photos by Paul Flessland
You weren’t dreaming. The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, really did come to Fargo to be the keynote speaker at the 2017 Eco Chic Design Conference. We had to pinch ourselves too when we met Drummond behind-the-scenes for an exclusive interview and photoshoot.
Before she went on stage, Drummond sat down with the editor of Design & Living Magazine, Tracy Nicholson, to talk about her blog, Food Network tv show and other exciting new adventures. In her Oklahoma accent, Drummond charmed us with her responses to all of our questions. If you’ve ever seen her show, you know what we mean.
HOW HAVE YOU ENJOYED FARGO SO FAR?
“So far, so good. It looks a lot like Oklahoma. It feels a little bit like home, just with different accents. It is my first time in North Dakota and I’m 48 years old. It’s amazing how similar it feels to where I live in Oklahoma: nice and flat with big, beautiful skies. It’s really fun to go to a state that I’ve never been to. I brought my 17-year-old daughter, Paige. It was a little bit of a last minute decision. Now she can mark North Dakota on her list of states that she’s visited.”
CAN YOU TELL OUR READERS HOW IT ALL BEGAN WITH THE COOKING SHOW AND THE BLOGGING?
“It started on a complete whim. I started as a blogger in 2006, and there were certainly blogs then, but it wasn’t quite as prevalent as it would become. I just started with a personal blog, free software online and no plan at all except that I would post photos and my mom would read it. It enabled me to express a creative side that I didn’t know I had. I lived in the country for 10 years at that point, so maybe it stored up and needed to come out somehow.
It was just really a natural evolution. I started posting recipes months later and a couple years later, my first cookbook came out, so if I’d have planned it all ahead of time, there’s no way. I couldn’t possibly have done it because it was such a natural evolution.”
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THAT FIRST COOKBOOK? WHAT WAS IT LIKE?
“Obviously, I had no idea what I was doing. I had been a food blogger for a couple of years and taught myself photography. That book came out in 2009, and I look back at the photos and I cover my face with my hands because the photos were not good, but I love it because it was me. I wasn’t trying to make it something it wasn’t, so I just did photos of my kids and my dogs interspersed with the food. Even though I look at it now and could say, ‘Oh this should be better,’ I wouldn’t change a thing about it. It was my first cookbook.”
CAN YOU TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE MERCANTILE, THE SPRING LINE AND THE FALL COOKBOOK YOU HAVE COMING UP?
“My husband and I bought an old building on Main Street in Pawhuska, Oklahoma, and slowly developed this vision for The Pioneer Woman Mercantile. We opened it last October. It was blood, sweat, tears, blood sweat tears, blood, sweat tears, over and over, but it’s been so rewarding. Things I didn’t think I’d be as interested in, I’m really interested in. I love the aspect of the store. I thought I would be totally invested in the food, which I am, but my attention always seems to be on the products, so it’s a lot of fun. We’re about six months in and we’re starting to hit our stride. We’ve worked out most of the kinks, of course, there are always going to be kinks, but we feel like, ‘Maybe we can do this thing.’
“I’ve been working on my fall cookbook coming up in October, hoping I’ll get it done. I’m not one of those people that do things well in advance. I’m always running.
“My spring line at Walmart has been my favorite collection so far. It’s all very bright with happy florals and geometric patterns. I just love it. It completes me.”
IS YOUR FAMILY INVOLVED IN THE MERCANTILE?
“Yes. It’s a total family affair. My daughter, Paige, works as a barista. My boys help out busing tables. My husband comes in and he eats, but then he’ll meet folks and take pictures. My father-in-law parked himself in front of the door, and he’s our unofficial greeter. He loves to talk, so he finds out where everybody’s from. What I love about it is that it doesn’t require me to travel. I meet so many people from different places without leaving my hometown.”
HOW MANY COOKBOOKS HAVE YOU PUBLISHED SO FAR?
“Four. This will be my fifth.”
CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN’S BOOK SERIES?
“Yes, I had a children’s book series about my dog, Charlie, and I have five books in the Charlie series, but we launched a new series this year called Little Ree. It just came out about 10 weeks ago. It’s sort of autobiographical. It’s about my transition into the country told through the perspective of a little girl. It’s not my story. I didn’t move to the country as a little girl, but it’s a parallel to my story.
“It was really fun to write, and the illustrator, Jacqueline Rogers, is amazing. She really brought Little Ree to life. I’m working on the second Little Ree right now. It involves a blueberry pie. Of course, there has to be food.”
I THINK OUR MIDWEST READERS CAN REALLY RELATE TO YOUR MORE CASUAL, FAMILY-FRIENDLY STYLE OF COOKING. WE LOVE YOUR AUTHENTICITY AND THAT YOU’RE NOT AFRAID TO MIX FRESH INGREDIENTS WITH CANNED ITEMS. IN YOUR COOKING SHOW CAREER, HAVE YOU EVER BEEN PRESSURED TO VEER A DIFFERENT DIRECTION?
“The production company that I work with has never tried to tell me how to cook or how I should cook, so it’s good. I have a nice partnership with them. Food Network has never tried to get me to cook a different way. Of course, on the internet, you hear about things like that, but it just wouldn’t be right for me to completely change the way I cook on TV and then not cook that way at home.
“The truth is I live in Pawhuska, Oklahoma. I can’t go to Whole Foods to grab something on the way home. I have a small grocery store, I can do bulk shopping and I have a lot of staples on hand. I try to use fresh ingredients. I love sushi and I love all kinds of food, except bananas, but cooking for my family my husband is a cowboy, so meat and potatoes, a couple of picky kids along the way, two kids that’ll eat anything…I cook the way that we eat. As you said, it’s definitely authentic.
“When it comes down to Wednesday night, cooking a dinner, I just want to tell people that it’s okay. Not everything is out of the can, obviously. That wouldn’t be healthy, but you can do a little mixing in of ready-made ingredients with fresh and it’s good be healthy, but you can do a little mixing in of ready-made ingredients with fresh and it’s good.”
WHAT MAKES THE PERFECT RECIPE?
“Oh gosh, well again, if it doesn’t have bananas. I don’t like bananas. I like to drive that point home. The perfect recipe is something that results in what you want to eat. I prefer cooking to baking. Baking, to me, is very precise and it’s about perfection. Cooking is more about flying by the seat of your pants. Even if you don’t have something, you can sub in something else. You can’t do that a lot in baking. I think the perfect recipe, there probably is no such thing, but if it results in something that you love or your family loves, to me that’s perfect.”
FROM WATCHING YOUR SHOW, IT SEEMS LIKE YOU CAN MAKE ANYTHING, BUT IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU JUST CANNOT PERFECT?
“Yes, and it’s big. It’s artisan bread from scratch. I’ll make it and it’s fine and it tastes like bread, but I just can’t nail it. It’s different every time. It’s my nemesis.”
DO YOU HAVE A RECIPE THAT YOU’D CONSIDER THE BEST?
“I can say that my cinnamon rolls are the best in the world, and I thank my mom for that. It’s actually her recipe, so I can’t take all of the credit. Anything quick like a chocolate sheet cake from scratch, no problem, total confidence. Steak, all of the predictable things I can whip up, no problem.”
WHAT IS YOUR FAMILY’S FAVORITE MEAL?
“That changes a lot. It’s probably five favorite things. One of them is chicken parmesan, of all things, and it’s not the best, authentic Italian version. It’s very Americanized. Chicken fried steak—we don’t eat it very often, but when we do they’re like putty in my hands. We like to do breakfast for dinner a lot with biscuits and gravy or things like that. They love Tex-Mex quesadillas. It’d be hard for them to unite into one favorite meal. Every kid has their own favorite.”
HOW MUCH TIME DOES SHOOTING THE SHOW TAKE OUT OF YOUR LIFE?
“On a full year, we’ll shoot 39 episodes, and that’s a total of 15 weeks a year that I’m really tied up with shooting. They come about five times a year for about three weeks at a time.”
DOES THE FOOD NETWORK CREW STAY IN PAWHUSKA?
“They stay on the ranch or they rent houses in Pawhuska, wherever they can find a bed basically. Since the mercantile opened, it’s interesting because they’re having a hard time finding places to rent. TV is just busy. It’s the busiest thing I do, for sure. It’s also the most demanding. Everything else I can do from home. I do my cookbooks at home at my own pace, but with TV production, there’s no fooling around. When it’s over, it’s like having a baby, and then you have these shows.”
WE UNDERSTAND THAT YOU WERE ONCE A CITY GIRL. WHAT CAREER PATH DID YOU TAKE AFTER COLLEGE?
“Yes, city girl, even when I lived in my town in Oklahoma I would have called myself a city girl. That’s where the nickname, ‘Pioneer Woman,’ came from because when I told my friends that I was marrying a cowboy and moving to the country, they busted a gut laughing.
“I grew up in Oklahoma, but it was more of a town setting, home of Phillips Petroleum, so it was a bit more of a cultured upbringing than Pawhuska.
“I went to USC and believe it or not, I majored in gerontology. I worked after college in the marketing realm with some great companies like Yeah Local, I knew I had to be geared toward aging Baby Boomers. That was what I was doing, and now here I am: food blogger, cookbook author and my dad’s like, ‘Wait, what was that college education for?'”
I UNDERSTAND THAT YOU DO A LOT OF TOUGH CHORES ON THE RANCH. IS THERE ANYTHING THAT YOU WON’T DO?
“I wouldn’t say I do a lot of tough chores. I leave that to my husband and kids. I will pitch in if they are shorthanded when they need me. That’s not my strong suit, but there’s nothing I wouldn’t do. Blood and things like that don’t bother me. My father was a surgeon, so maybe that’s why. I seem to always be the gate opener. I give shots. I don’t do the heavy-duty work where they have to wrestle the calves to the ground. I’m happy to leave that to those with experience.”
HOW ON EARTH DO YOU JUGGLE EVERYTHING?
“It’s hard. I do the things that I really enjoy. I get a lot done when I love doing it. There are so many things that people are chasing me on a daily basis, and there are lots of loose ends. I just became okay with going to bed at night and not having everything done. My dad used to tease me that I only did what was fun and it’s kind of true still.”
WHAT DID YOU THINK WHEN MARIA BOSAK FROM FARGO CALLED YOU ONE DAY AND SAID, “WE WANT YOU TO COME TO NORTH DAKOTA AND SPEAK AT THE DESIGN CONFERENCE?”
“I was excited. It sounded like an amazing event. I loved the idea that she basically started it on a whim. This isn’t something that some corporation set up, like a trade-show entity. It really came from a place of passion, and I really respected that and could relate to that because that’s how Pioneer Woman started.”