It’s no easy task to get ahold of Ayesha Curry these days.
Our first phone call was bumped because other media interviews she was doing ran long. Our second got pushed because of a delayed flight. And the third time was not a charm; Curry, a Toronto/Charlotte native who is married to two-time reigning NBA MVP Stephen Curry, was feeling a little overwhelmed as she juggled a product shoot in their San Francisco home with keeping young daughters Riley and Ryan entertained, so she asked if we could postpone once more – from 9:45 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Pacific time.
“Sorry for the delay! We’ve had a crazy couple days,” Ayesha Curry says when we finally connect, while the crew was breaking for lunch and the girls were napping.
In fact, things have been crazy for her for the past several months. Since September, Curry, 28, has been on a rocket-like trajectory toward the top of the celebrity-chef heap thanks to projects that have strengthened her footholds in the TV and publishing worlds, but also courtesy of new deals she’s cooked up that could eventually make her as famous in the kitchen as her husband is on the basketball court.
Her first cookbook, “The Seasoned Life,” quickly became a New York Times best seller after its September release. In April, she saw first-chance subscriptions of her new family-meal-kit delivery service, Homemade, sell out within 24 hours. The second season of her Food Network series “Ayesha’s Home Kitchen” is in the middle of a six-episode run that continues through June 4. She’s developed a line of cookware that will bear her brand when it hits stores this fall.
And while there’s been no official announcement, the day after Curry and I chatted, news broke that she will be opening a barbecue restaurant in San Francisco with Michael Mina – a fellow celebrity chef/restaurateur she said “is definitely my biggest mentor” when I inquired about the best cooking teacher she’s ever had.
She’s been priming herself for this career, though, since childhood, while growing up in her birthplace of Toronto, then in her adopted hometown of Charlotte, where her family moved when she was a teenager (and where she famously met Stephen Curry in youth group at the Central Church of God in Charlotte).
“I was always in the kitchen, whether it was with my mom, or my grandma, my dad, my siblings,” says Curry, whose mother is of Jamaican and Chinese descent and whose father is Polish and African American, something that gave their kitchen lots of cultures and flavors to play with. “In all of the spare time that I had, I would always cook for my friends and my family; it was kind of my way of pulling my weight around at home.”
But Curry – who has no formal culinary training – admits that a big part of her early education came out of a box.
“My mom hates when I say it, but TV definitely taught me a lot about cooking,” she says, laughing. “I would fall asleep and wake up to Emeril (Lagasse) and Rachael Ray and Food Network every night, every morning. I wasn’t the cartoon kid, I was the Food Network kid. I was the kid that was sitting six inches away from the TV, ended up in glasses, because I just thought I could watch and figure out how to do it.”
Here are six other highlights from our conversation with Curry last week.
1. Though Curry made her own Food Network debut not too long ago – in September 2015, on Ray’s self-titled show – it was far from her first time on television. As a child actress (then Ayesha Alexander), she had small roles in a variety of shows, from TBS’s “10 Items or Less” to Disney Channel’s “Hannah Montana” and “Good Luck Charlie.” But it didn’t stick in adulthood. “I eventually got to the point where I was like, ‘I don’t actually enjoy this at all,’ ” she says. “I think I spent so long vying out of position to be somebody else, that I never had a chance to be myself. There’s a lot of being told no. ‘No, no, no, no, no.’ I was tired of having to wait for somebody to tell me yes. So I wanted to figure out a way to empower myself, and to be my own ‘yes’ woman.”
2. Her fame and success has snowballed faster than she ever imagined it would. “I reached my goals so quickly that now I’m like 10 steps ahead of myself, and I’m like trying to figure out what the heck is going on,” Curry says, laughing. “It’s kind of become the norm in our family, because the same thing kind of happened with my husband. So we’re both trying to play catch-up. Everybody’s like, ‘Do you realize how great everything is right now? Do you realize everything that you’ve accomplished?’ And we’re both kind of like, ‘Well, no, but let me call you right back because I have a meeting.’ There’s always some sort of work to do. But: Our family comes first.”
3. About that family: In July, older daughter Riley turns 5 and the Currys’ youngest, Ryan, will be 2. The girls are used to seeing Dad playing basketball on TV, but they’re still adjusting to having Mom appear in their living room in 2-D. “Actually, yesterday Ryan watched the show for the first time and I think she was confused,” Curry says. “She’d look at the TV, then she’d look at me. Then she’d look at the TV, and she’d look at me. And she was like, ‘Mommy? Mommy!?’ Then she picked up the remote and used it as a phone. thinking she could call me on the TV. It was hilarious.” Riley, meanwhile, could well wind up following in her mother’s footsteps. Sort of. “She calls me a ‘cooker,’ and she says she wants to be a cooker, a hair-doer, and a makeup-putter-onner,” Curry says, laughing. “I’m like, ‘Honey, you mean a cook or a chef, a hair stylist, and a makeup artist?’ She’s like, ‘Yeah, that!’ ”
4. And then, of course, there’s Stephen. I ask Ayesha several food-related questions about the former Davidson College standout and current Golden State Warriors star, including: What was his relationship with food like before you two got married and started living together? Answer: “He was your typical college guy – frozen pizzas, lots of sugary drinks, lots of Outback Steakhouse. He wasn’t really willing to try anything, initially. But once our relationship developed, he realized what an integral part of my well-being food is, and how much I love it, and how passionate I am about it.” And, naturally: So what’s his relationship with food like now? Answer: “I swear to you, his palate is broader than mine. He will try things that I don’t even like. I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness. Who are you??’ ” Also: Has he ever come up with a recipe all on his own? Answer: “He has one thing he can make – that five-ingredient pasta. Michael Symon from (ABC series) ‘The Chew’ inspired him with that. If I’m ever sick or on my death bed, I know exactly what he’s cooking me for dinner.” She laughs through all of this. But things get more serious when I ask:
5. Does she ever get tired of being referred to as “the wife of Stephen Curry”? “I don’t think that,” Ayesha Curry says, “but it does get exhausting when people don’t know you and they make assumptions and they put you in a box that you never even stepped foot in yourself. That’s frustrating at times for me – and for him, because the same thing happens with him in his own profession. ... I’m proud of my husband. I’m definitely proud to be his wife. So it doesn’t bother me, but I do hope that people also see me for all of my own qualities as well.”
6. If you haven’t noticed, family is awfully important to Curry. In fact, the whole notion of family and togetherness is what drives her. “One of the reasons why I’m in food is because I look at my generation and I just see how the family meal is not a thing anymore, and that devastates me because it’s the one thing I remember growing up that brought everybody in my family together. There were no cellphones at the time, but our house phone was always ringing off the hook, and it was the one time where the the house phone wasn’t being answered. Nobody was working. Everybody was talking and communicating. And that’s where relationships are formed. So my hope is to inspire people, with the meal kits and the cookware and everything, to keep that alive. I’m trying to figure out ways to make it fun and exciting again, so that people come together at least once a week – or as often as they can – and sit down at the table and gather together and have a meal together. It’s such a fundamental way to build a relationship. That’s the whole reason why I’m doing all this. I just want to keep that alive.”
Bonus questions for Ayesha Curry
Besides her family (much of which is still here), what does she miss most about the Charlotte area? “Church, I think. We’ve tried numerous places, and I haven’t been able to find a church like the church that we go to in North Carolina (Central Church of God). That’s been the hardest part for us. It could be in part because we grew up in that church, and that’s where we got married, and that’s where we christened our kids. But we just feel so connected to it in that sense, and we haven’t quite found that same feeling or vibe anywhere else. Oh, and I miss being able to drive to my mom’s house to get food whenever I want.”
What’s her favorite thing that Mom cooks? “Her brown sugar chicken. It’s the bomb.”
When she’s not eating her mother’s cooking, is there a restaurant she always has to hit when she comes back to Charlotte? “Sunday brunch at BrickTop’s. Brown sugar bacon, crab eggs benedict, and they have this awesome rosemary grapefruit soda. It’s so delicious. Or, if I’m in the mood for a cocktail, I usually get a Pimm’s Cup from there. So good. Then Tupelo Honey Cafe is the bomb; I love their biscuits. Ooo, and they don’t have Bojangles’ here (in San Francisco). So that, too.”
Even more Curry
▪ New episodes of her Food Network show, “Ayesha’s Home Kitchen,” premiere every Sunday at 12:30 p.m. through June 4.
▪ Her cookbook, “The Seasoned Life: Food, Family, Faith, and the Joy of Eating Well,” is available online and in bookstores.
▪ Details about her new family-meal-kit delivery service, Homemade, are available at www.cookhomemade.com.
▪ All kinds of recipes and videos are posted on her official website: www.ayeshacurry.com.