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The food scene's rising star

Last modified: 7/4/2012 12:00:00 AM
Which side of Angela Shelf Medearis do you know?

The feathers-and-sequins-wearing cookbook author who has strutted her culinary prowess on Dr. Oz and the Today show, not to mention her own public television cooking program? Or the prolific children's book author (as in roughly 100 of them)?

Two distinct sides of the same self-proclaimed 'Kitchen Diva.' Two success stories she credits mostly to divine inspiration and a serious pinch of sass.

'I'm famous for my inability to cook,' so says the 55-year-old Austin writer. 'Going to my house was not a treat.'

It helps that she clearly doesn't know how to take 'no' for an answer.

When her first 'pitiful, pitiful articles' were rejected by The New Yorker and other big magazines, she kept plugging until someone - a waterbed magazine! - said yes. When her first children's book, Picking Peas for a Penny, got 32 rejections, she stormed the offices of a local Austin publisher and blocked the door until they let her read her story out loud. It went on to sell more than 185,000 copies, she says.

And when New York publishers rejected her first attempt at a cookbook, she decided what they really meant was . . . send them food.

'I could always make a good peach cobbler, even when I was first married,' says Medearis, who married her husband, Michael, when she was 18. So she packed a cobbler with her manuscript and sent it off. The African-American Kitchen was published in 1994 and went on to spawn six more books, including her latest, The Kitchen Diva's Diabetic Cookbook (2012, Andrews McMeel).

'You can't help but be engaged by her if you've spent any time with her,' says Chris Funkhouser, a vice president at Boston-based American Public Television, which is looking to distribute her next program. 'I've seen her live in person and seen her program. She's a fun, engaging person who's relaxed and really draws people in.'

Part of the appeal is the way Medearis weaves into her lessons her own triumph over her inability to cook.

'I always tell people I could not cook,' she says. 'I never hear other chefs say, 'Oh, I couldn't cook.' You get this impression that they came out the womb with a whisk. That doesn't give people any hope.'

But the idea of making a change, of triumph over fear, is not just part of her message, Medearis says. It's what led her from children's books to cooking in the first place.

'I had everything, but I was very dissatisfied,' she says. After a particularly moving sermon at church one Sunday, she prayed for guidance. 'I realized that this is the direction my life is supposed to take. Children's books, that's a pretty limited audience. If I was going to tell people that I realized my life had changed, I had to tell them through food.'

Medearis is on to her next round of rejecting the rejecters, working to raise the money to launch her next public television program, a series about healthy cooking on a budget. It's an uphill slog, but she hardly cares.

'I have a gift to be able to convey information to people, to give them the confidence to change their lives,' she says. 'Going against the grain, people telling me it's not going to work, they've been telling me that since the day I was born. I'm not even worried about it.'


1 pound imitation crabmeat, canned tuna packed in water, or canned salmon or a combination of the three

1 large egg, lightly beaten

« cup whole-wheat panko breadcrumbs

« cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons low-fat mayonnaise

⅓ cup finely chopped celery

« cup finely chopped red bell pepper

2 scallions, including green parts, finely chopped

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon poultry seasoning

« teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

6 whole-wheat hamburger buns, split and toasted

« cup shredded romaine

1 avocado, peeled, pitted and sliced

In a large bowl, combine the crabmeat, egg, breadcrumbs, yogurt, mayonnaise, celery, bell pepper, scallions, mustard, lemon juice, poultry seasoning, cayenne and black pepper.

Mix gently, then form into 6 patties. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Heat the oven to broil. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Arrange the patties on the prepared baking sheet.

Broil the patties for 3 to 4 minutes, then carefully flip them and broil for another 3 to 4 minutes, or until golden brown.

Place each burger in a toasted bun and top with lettuce and avocado slices.

Serves 6.


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