Mogul. Magnate. Martha.
Just mention her name and there’s no confusing who you are talking about. But Martha Stewart is more than just a wildly successful entrepreneur; she is an icon in every sense of the word.
For decades, Stewart has been the authority for millions around the world who religiously rely on her expertise surrounding everything from preparing an unforgettable meal to decorating a home in dazzling fashion. The merchandise she endorses can be found on shelves everywhere from Macy’s to Staples. She publishes four magazines and, as an author, she’s penned more than 70 books. Her TV show can be seen on Hallmark Channel through the end of the summer and she has her own satellite radio station.
Seemingly, there aren’t enough hours in the day for someone of her ilk. But, then again, no one said building a lifestyle brand was supposed to be easy; Stewart just makes it feel that way with a homespun approach and her everywoman personality.
We sat down with the Nutley, N.J., native to discuss her latest book, “Martha’s American Food.” It’s a comprehensive collection of some of the most familiar fare you’ll find across the country and loaded not only with the recipes, but the history behind the dishes. Stewart also tells us about her love of gardening, her unique ability to talk to animals, and why she considers herself a teacher above all else.
SUBURBAN LIFE: So, tell us about the new book and the inspiration behind it.
MARTHA STEWART: I’m very excited about the book because there are so many interesting recipes throughout the country that are quintessentially American. We tried to compile them all into this one volume and it really works—the recipes are delicious; the facts and the dialogue are interesting.
SL: In the introduction of “Martha’s American Food,” you cite how much research and effort you and your staff put forth on selecting which foods to highlight. Was it a conscious decision to include the backstories, because while these are all foods people may be familiar with, they may not necessarily know their origin?
MS: It was very much a conscious [decision]. So many don’t know what’s indigenous to America. We’ve been collecting these recipes for a lot of years.
SL: You break down the different cuisines by region. Did you discover anything new about the distinct tastes and cultures across the country?
MS: All the research for this book taught me a tremendous amount about regional flavors, regional crops, indigenous botanical and biological foods all discovered in the Americas. And the recipes that we have chosen for the book include those foods: blueberries, cranberries, wild rice, squash, chilies, various nuts, various sea foods … indigenous, edible species: wild turkey, crab, lobster, oysters.
SL: You published your first book in 1982. Looking back, did you ever anticipate growing such an empire?
MS: I was hoping at the time the subject of living would expand enough to cover a number of subjects; it has proven to be more expansive than I thought. We have done so much with collecting, entertaining, crafting, good food, decorating, design, weddings, and kids … it’s been extremely expansive and rewarding as a result.
SL: You’ve served as inspiration for so many others, but who inspires you?
MS: Every single day I get inspired by artisans, by fine growers of plants, artists, by chefs, every single day.
SL: You clearly state in the new book that trying to define American food is difficult. Does that also make it more exciting in a way, that there are no definitive boundaries?
MS: Totally. Finding a new way to make something, a new recipe for an apple pie or a chili, is always very exciting.
SL: What’s your favorite recipe from the book?
MS: I love the fried chicken recipe, the cioppino recipe; there are a lot of good ones.
SL: Your products are currently in 8,500 different retail outlets across the country. Do you ever shy away from the term “mogul”?
MS: No, I don’t mind it at all.
SL: Does being considered such an icon ever become a burden in any way, in a sense that sometimes you wish there was a little bit of normalcy in your life?
MS: Oh, I lead a very normal life, I do. I raise animals on my farm, grow my own vegetables, I garden, I visit friends.
SL: Having accomplished so much in your career, are you still looking for new challenges in life?
MS: There’s so many things. … I have a couple of new businesses that I really want to get off the ground and I want to expand our merchandise internationally.
SL: Obviously you spend a lot of time in the public eye, but is there anything that people would be surprised to know about you? Any hidden talents or guilty pleasures?
MS: I don’t think people realize how much I really do garden. And I go horseback riding every week. I am intensely aware of the environment and what’s going on and pay a lot of attention. I’m also extremely interested in my Center for Living at Mount Sinai Hospital [in New York]. It’s really an important initiative for me, as it helps people over the age of 65 grow old gracefully and with dignity.
SL: I’ve read that you have a special language you speak with animals. Care to elaborate on that?
MS: I speak to my horses in a horse language, my dogs in a dog language my birds in a bird language. I have lots of ways to talk to people [laughs].
SL: How many pets do you own?
MS: Six cats, three dogs, 25 red canaries, three donkeys, five horses, 200 chickens, geese. … I have a lot of animals.
SL: If you could entertain any five guests in the world, who would it be and what would you prepare?
MS: President Barack Obama, [President of China] Hu Jintao, [President of Russia] Dmitry Medvedev, [President of Brazil] Dilma Rousseff and [President of India] Smt. Pratibha Devisingh, and I would prepare an all-American dinner.
SL: There are so many different avenues you do business in. How often are you approached with an idea that you turn down?
MS: Quite often—some ideas are just too offhand or random.
SL: What’s the one gadget or tool in the kitchen you couldn’t live without?
MS: A very good, sharp knife.
SL: Being as successful as you are, how important is it for you to give back and impart some wisdom to fledgling businesspeople, especially women who are inspired by what you’ve accomplished?
MS: I feel being a teacher is my role in life. I impart a tremendous amount of knowledge.
… I have a channel on Sirius, a very good how-to radio channel. You can learn about food, about gardening, lifestyle, design, decoration and pets. We write the books, we have a well-read website, and of course our daily TV program. Free advice is so hard to come by these days, and I’m in the business of imparting information to the broadest audience.