Q & A With Orange Is the New Black's Kate Mulgrew: Prison Food, Hair Advice + Thoughts on Chicken Kiev
|Jessica Miglio for Netflix|
|Taylor Schilling in Orange Is the New Black|
SI: On a scale of one to 10, how bad is the food that the inmates are eating?
KM: Given what she's given to work with it's probably a 5. Everything is limited. The spices are limited. The butter is limited. The oil is limited. The stuff that makes food good, right? Within that, I would say that there's not a lot of room for creativity.
SI: Recently Nancy Grace hosted a special called Women Behind Bars. One segment featured inventively created prison food -- one dish got an Asian-style orange chicken flavor by soaking chicken breast in a bath of Kool-Aid.
KM: Yes. And amazing things can be done with potato chips, with Cup of Noodles and tuna. With crackers. You can bake things, you can broil things. It's amazing. But Red would not know about those things. She prides herself on proper recipes executed only in the kitchen. Red is on an elevated scale. If she goes to her dorm room to eat anything, it's a cup of coffee and maybe a tin of tuna fish.
SI: Are you, Kate Mulgrew, drawn to the culinary arts?
KM: I'm really quite an advanced cook. What do you want to know?
SI: When you want to make your boyfriend a lovely meal, what ends up on the dining room table?
KM: I have a lot of dinner parties and I love to cook. If I want a comfortable and happy meal, I'll cook Italian. If I want an impressive meal, I'll do French because it can be hard and it's sauce-based, and that can be quite tricky. For the Italian palate, I can make any kind of pasta, I can do anything with veal, anything with chicken. I make brilliant stews. I make an osso buco to die for. It's limitless. I'm not a great baker. I'm one of those women who will serve a lovely fruit compote and some beautiful cheeses at the end for dessert. I won't bake a cake.
SI: How did you learn to cook?
KM: I was raising my children, and I'm one of eight children myself. I watched a little bit and I learned. When my kids were very young, and finicky, which all children are, I tried to devise interesting ways to seduce them with food. And that developed into my love of dinner parties.
SI: Tell us about a typical Kate Mulgrew dinner party.
KM: I like nothing better than having six or eight people milling around my kitchen, candlelight, great wine, a beautiful three-, four-, five-course meal and everybody leaving at 2 a.m. That's my idea of absolute bliss.
SI: Woo hoo! Have you had the cast over?
KM: I've had Taylor over several times. We're old pals. We did Mercy together. She loves a good dinner party, too. I've had Natasha [Lyonne]. I'll have them all, one by one. I like small groups, not a big thing.
SI: Does being a good cook make you better at playing Red?
KM: There's a pride to cooking, a generosity, and a gratification to it. You're proud of what you're producing, you're generous because you want to feed the people you love, and you're gratified to see everyone so happy because of something created by your own hands. It's a wonderful feeling. It's maternal, it's sensual. Food is life.
SI: Do you think that OITNB is popular because everybody feels somehow connected to this community of women?
KM: I think so. There are 200 in this prison and each belongs to a certain tribe -- there are the blacks, the Latinas, the Golden Girls, the ghetto girls, the Christian right. I think everybody watching can either relate to it directly -- or indirectly. Their family, their background, their history. [OITNB] covers the entire spectrum of humanity. Also we can't forget that these are not hardened criminals. This isn't maximum security. These are generally women who screwed up. And we're all capable of screwing up, right?
SI: You've been an actress for more than 40 years. How does OITNB fit in the greater scheme of things?
KM: This is the first time I've ever felt completely liberated as an actor. They only want me to be Red. They don't want me to be beautiful or exemplary. They just want me to be Red. And that's true of every single woman who's been cast. Jenji has exquisite taste. These girls are absolutely authentic and very skilled and they are just dazzled by it and so excited. Some of these girls of the streets of New York, fresh out of Juilliard, culled from every corner of the city. They're marvelous actresses who I think never dreamed, and overnight, that this could happen. Their energy is pretty contagious.
SI: How important is being kitchen manager to Red?
KM: It defines her. What landed her in prison is the first place is her need to be useful. To be productive. Her need to make whatever it is she's doing excellent and above the norm. She's very smart, you know. She's been in prison for 12 years and she's garnered the respect of the C.O.'s and administration. And they've allowed her to take the kitchen to a new level. That excellence and that culture of the kitchen, filled with music, with life, with color and scents, filled with food? That allows Red to put her head on the pillow at night and not want to blow her brains out. As long as she can feed this population, these girls, she am gratified. That is food for her.
Want to know how the real-life Piper Kerman made cheesecake out of eight wedges of Laughing Cow cheese and 6 oz. of Coffee Mate? Check back later...
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