Graham Kerr is back.
He first became a worldwide TV celebrity in the late 1960s as the Galloping Gourmet, winning record numbers of viewers with his bright, cheerful and slightly daffy persona, a light British accent, a penchant for wine and an extensive repertoire of totally decadent recipes built around loads of butter, cream and animal fat.
Then life got in the way. In 1970, a serious car accident interrupted his TV career. In the 1980s, his wife, Treena, suffered a heart attack that changed everything.
He became a champion of health-conscious meals.
He never stopped working, serving as a TV show host and writing more cookbooks, all informed by the couple’s culinary tours of the world.
Now the jovial, charming, 73-year-old Kerr, complete with classic suspenders, is poised to make yet another splash on America’s food scene.
This time, he’s putting his star power and culinary genius behind a new enterprise, Day-by-Day Gourmet in Lynnwood.
Today, he’ll wrap up a three-day grand opening celebration, sharing some of his dishes and meeting fans and curious customers.
“This system is completely different from the restaurant business,” Kerr said. “I’m hopeful there will be a lot of people who see how wonderful it is and copy us.”
Day-by-Day Gourmet is actually a new spin on what’s known in the food industry as a home meal replacement service.
Dream Dinners and Dinners Ready, both founded in Snohomish County in the past decade, have grown into national franchises by providing ready-to-cook meals that customers can freeze until they need a quick, home-cooked meal without all the prep work.
Day-by-Day’s majority owner Brad Vorhees, a co-founder of Dinners Ready who has since sold his share in the business, teamed up with Kerr to create full meals that are less than 500 calories each, including side dishes and vegetables, all for about $5 a serving.
Kerr has been working on recipes for the past 20 years with a mission to reduce salt, fat, sugar and processed carbohydrates without sacrificing taste.
Spices are a big part of it.
Using knowledge pulled from his world travels, Kerr has created a variety of herb and spice mixes under the trademarked name “Ethmix.”
They’re meant to evoke a sense of adventure from the most cherished culinary centers of the world, spanning the globe from the Shanghai coastline to the heart of northern Italy.
Kerr says he focuses on taste, aroma, color and texture, which he abbreviates as TACT.
“These elements tend to get forgotten. My job is to raise and lower those bars,” Kerr said, likening the facets to an equalizer on a sound system. “We look for layers of flavors.”
Kerr created the Day-by-Day meals with German master chef Karl Guggenmos, a dean at Johnson &Wales University’s College of Culinary Arts in Rhode Island.
Each full meal is designed to provide fewer than 60 grams of carbohydrates, no more than 30 percent of its calories from fat and less salt than processed foods.
Their meals have a decidedly international flavor, including dishes such as North African beef bake with matzo dumplings and green peas, Basque-style skillet chicken with spinach, and Arabian-style strudel with fiesta vegetable blend, to name a few of the March menu choices.
There are American classics, too, such as turkey pot pie, pork chops with apple and plums, and barbecued chicken.
Busy families using Day-by-Day Gourmet can either come into the store, just off I-5 at 164th Street, to assemble and package their own meals, or they can opt for “valet gourmet” pickup service with the meals already made by Day-by-Day.
Customers choose what meals they’d like in advance in person or online. Day-by-Day Gourmet takes care of the shopping, chopping and recipes. All the meals are designed to be frozen. Each comes with special preparation instructions.
Eventually, customers will be able to tailor their meals to special gluten-free, insulin-resistant, low-fat, low-carb or vegetarian diets.
“Now I’m a servant chef, not a celebrity chef,” said Kerr. “Now I can do all the prep work for them and they can do the fun part.”
Day-by-Day expects to open 1,500 new franchises over the next eight years, including at least 25 by the end of 2007, said Day-by-Day vice president of sales and marketing Stacy Evans.
Meanwhile, Kerr is happy to have his early days behind him, when weight-loss groups condemned his indulgence.
“I was Public Enemy No. 1,” Kerr said. “They said, ‘You are the most dangerous man in the world for people who want to lose weight.’ “
The Kerrs, who moved from Camano Island to Mount Vernon in 2001, don’t want people to stop cooking. They’ll publish a Day-by-Day Gourmet Cookbook this year to help families supplement the meal service.
Customers will have access to a gourmet glossary to explain terms and techniques for cooking the Day-by-Day meals on the stove, in the oven or, in summer months, on the grill.
“When you do this dish, you’ll actually cook it,” he said of the fiesta chicken, a popular sample at the grand opening with orzo, chicken breast, black beans, onions, red bell pepper and seasonings such as cumin, chili powder and coriander. “You’ll follow my instructions.”
Kerr’s reputation and longtime celebrity status were already attracting customers at Thursday’s grand opening celebration.
Stephen and April Soderquist of Redmond sampled the food and were ready to sign up for a session to make 12 meals for their family, including two boys at home, ages 12 and 16.
“We’re trying to introduce them to better foods and I think this would be a great way to do it,” said April Soderquist, who has diabetes. “Pepperoni pizza. That’s a staple at our house.”
Not having to shop or be constantly creative was also a big selling point for the couple, both longtime fans of Kerr.
“They have everything here,” April Soderquist said of the Mediterranean-themed prep kitchen in Lynnwood. “It would be a great Saturday afternoon with the kids.”
Reporter Sarah Jackson: 425-339-3037 or firstname.lastname@example.org.