Date:: September 2000
Author:: Jeanne Wolf
Source:: Celebrity Dish

What happens when a budding gourmet has baby number two, three … and four? These days Everybody Loves Raymond’s Patricia Heaton whips up kid-friendly fare

For Emmy nominee and TV Guide Award winner Patricia Heaton, life comes close to imitating art but there’s a difference. Just like Debra Barone the harried mom she plays on Everybody Loves Ratymond, Patricia has a houseful of kids—four sons ranging in age from six to sixteen months. But unlike Debra, who is constantly reminded by Raymond’s mother that she suffers from serious culinary impairment, Heaton is right at home in the kitchen.

“Actually, only a few members of the cast know I can cook,” she smiles. “I think Phil Rosenthal, our executive producer, was one of the first to find out. I was telling him about a meal I had done for some friends. I made Chateaubriand, a potato Tatin (where you slice them very thin with lots of butter and rosemary and salt and pepper.) And I told him about these wonderful popovers. The popovers go very well with beef, they’re sort of my version of what they call “puddings” in England. Phil, who’s a big foodie said, ‘Oh my gosh, I should have married you.’ ”

In fact, Heaton’s husband is British actor David Hunt who she laughingly reveals is not a frequent presence in her own kitchen. “I can only remember him making me one meal,” she says. “I think after the second baby he fixed me some scrambled eggs. That was it.” She charitably admits that he does try to make things like a sandwich for her but the kitchen perfectionist in her notices something like the tomatoes sliced too thick and decides to do it herself.

It was after she got married that Heaton began to get serious about what she put on the table. “Before we had kids I’d cook David gourmet dishes,” she continues. “I bought a Silver Palate cookbook and went through a lot of the recipes. David used to say he felt like Jackie Gleason on the “TheHoneymooners”—you know when Jackie would come in the door and say, ‘Honey what’s for dinner?’ We’d have a sit down meal with wine and everything but it all went to hell when we had children.”

Everywhere in Patty’s house there are youthful drawings and class projects. A shelf of family photos in a room off of her kitchen is filled with family photos and her TV GUIDE Award. Nearby, Pokemon hats hang on the coat hooks. The living room is warmly and beautifully decorated but as she says, “Everywhere else is kidsville.” Now Heaton has a no nonsense approach to whipping up food for her family. “First, you have to get rid of the little ones,” she grins. “And then, you open a nice bottle of wine as you work.”

Heaton admits that cooking for her brood of boys—Samuel, Joseph, John and Daniel—can be a challenge. “Their favorites are macaroni and cheese and salmon,” she says. “I fixed them spaghetti and meatballs the other night. I added fresh basil and thyme, egg and bread crumbs to ground beef to make the meatballs. Then I browned them in olive oil and put them in my tomato sauce which has lots of garlic in it. And I thought, ‘I’ve got my apron on and I’m really being a little home-maker.” She pauses with a deft bit of comic timing before adding, “And the kids wouldn’t touch it. I was hearing, ‘I don’t like red sauce. I just want mine with butter on it.’ So I said to myself, ‘You can’t win.’” If Heaton isn’t always successful in getting her kids to be mildly adventuresome in what they’ll eat she has found a way to sneak vegetables into their diet. “When Sam was born, I would make my own baby food by grinding up veggies,” she reveals. “Then, I discovered that you can put ground vegetables into anything. I slip them into burgers and they never notice. It’s just hidden in there.”

The forty-one-year-old Heaton, who grew up in an Irish Catholic family of five in Cleveland, readily admits that her own childhood was hardly fancy fare. She jokes, “I grew up with Tang, Pop Tarts and Hostess cupcakes for dessert. My mother cooked the same things every week—meat loaf, burgers and fish sticks on Fridays. There was also a lot of casseroles which I was not fond of—too many mystery ingredients. Anyway, mom did turn out great traditional holiday meals. We had ham on Easter and turkey at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Those dinners were my best childhood memories.”

“Now, when I cook a turkey for Thanksgiving, I’m big on the stuffing, that’s my favorite part—plain old bread stuffing, nothing fancy, with lots of gravy on it,” she continues. “Actually, I’m very big on carbohydrates which doesn’t make me too popular in L.A. It’s not a carb kind of town. I think it’s against the law to eat pasta. Anyway, I used to love diner food, the kind that would stick to your ribs, when I lived in New York.” Heaton headed for Manhattan after graduating from Ohio State. She had switched her major from journalism —a reflection of the influence of her father Chuck Heaton a popular Cleveland sportswriter—to drama. “I guess I wanted to be on the other side of the tape recorder,” she says, “so I decided to give acting a try.”

Now she can laugh at her life as a struggling actress in the Big Apple. “I was living in a tiny studio apartment with a room-mate,” she remembers. “We were so poor I think we had one pot, no spoons, and no curtains on our windows but I was having the time of my life.” While she auditioned for roles that were few and far between, Heaton supported herself doing everything from running the copy machine at “”People Magazine” to proof reading at the brokerage firm, Morgan Stanley. But it was a string of restaurant jobs that sparked her interest in cooking. “I had a lot of fun and it really educated me,” she recalls. “Food is such a celebratory thing and I wanted people to have a good time. If they don’t leave in a good mood you sort of feel you’ve spoiled it for them. I think it sparked my approach to entertaining where you want the presentation and the atmosphere to be as good as the food. While I was a waitress I got to be a real expert in napkin folding. I can do the bishop’s hat and floral things. I still get a kick out of it.”

“I don’t get a chance to entertain as much as I like, at the moment,” she adds. This year she had a birthday party for friends and she carries on her husband’s English tradition of celebrating Boxing Day—the day after Christmas. If you notice Heaton’s high styled outfits at awards shows you know that inside that house-wife in sweats and T-shirts lurks a glamorous gal. “I love to dress up and I love to be the person known for giving people a great time.”

Now, Heaton is giving her fans a treat each week on Everybody Loves Ratymond but in spite of her demanding schedule she tries to be at home to put dinner on the table. “Being an actress, doing a show, is sort of intangible,” she says reflectively. “It airs and, then, it goes away. But when you make a meal for your family and sit down with them and watch them eat it, it gives you a great sense of accomplishment. The kids are getting healthy and you’re helping them grow.” “There’s still one problem,” she smiles, “getting them to the table. I think I finally solved that though. David gave me a dinner bell. I used to tell him how, when I was growing up, the lady down the street would call her kids to dinner that way. Mine is very loud. Now, I ring it and my kids come right in.”