Graham Kerr is a widower now, but his dinner table is set for three. Once the dashing star of “The Galloping Gourmet,” and still a charmer at 85, Kerr lives simply in his nautically designed home overlooking the Skagit Valley. He calls it his “little ark on the hill.”
And those three place mats? One is for Kerr. A devout Christian, he explained that the extra places at his table represent two African children he sponsors through Compassion International, a global ministry that supports kids living in extreme poverty.
“I’ve changed the amount I eat, and I share with them,” he said Monday.
Although a new edition of his 1969 classic, “The Graham Kerr Cookbook: The Galloping Gourmet,” was published last year, the once showy chef stays mostly out of the limelight these days. Living simply and slowly are important to him now.
He turned down an invitation to be a judge on the “Iron Chef” cooking show. He didn’t do a publicity tour when his cookbook was re-released. Yet he’ll soon share his approach to life with a local audience.
Kerr is the keynote speaker for the 59th annual Snohomish County Community Prayer Breakfast, scheduled for 7 a.m. April 19. The event, a Good Friday tradition sponsored by the YMCA of Snohomish County, will be in the conference center at Everett’s Angel of the Winds Arena.
At the breakfast, Kerr said he’ll talk about “a radical change that has taken place in my life.”
Actually, the British-born Kerr has weathered several radical changes since becoming a TV personality. His journey to stardom began in 1960 with a cooking show in New Zealand and Australia. It continued, from 1969 to 1971, on “The Galloping Gourmet,” a hit series filmed before a live audience in Ottawa, Canada.
Women in his TV crowd would giggle as Kerr, living up to the show’s title, leapt over chairs while holding a glass of wine as an opening act. Between sips of wine and sly jokes, Kerr would prepare rich dishes that had his audience licking lips.
Kerr and his wife Treena, his childhood sweetheart and the show’s producer, were badly injured in a 1971 car accident. They left TV glitz behind to sail the world in their Ocean 71 yacht, named the “Treena.” The crew included their three children. “With 195 shows a year, we hadn’t been a family,” Kerr said.
In the mid-1970s, Kerr became a Christian. By the time his wife had a heart attack and stroke in the 1980s, he had done a culinary about-face. Fatty meats, butter and cream gave way to a low-fat regimen he now sees as too extreme.
“If you used to be called the ‘high priest of hedonism,’ then come to be a Christian, you think to yourself as making a change from celebrity to servant,” he said. “How do I serve? I decided it was about people eating better.”
Now, his servant role is not all about food.
His beloved Treena died in 2015, less than a week before their 60th anniversary. As his wife’s caregiver for 28 years, “what I did for her overflowed into what I did in the media,” he said. Now, his message goes beyond healthful eating. “That doesn’t mean I’ve stopped practicing the good things I learned for her.”
His raised garden beds, ready to be planted with arugula, beets, kale and other veggies, are evidence that Kerr practices what he preaches — without being preachy.
“I do not see, as a Christian, that it is my responsibility to tell the world how they should live their lives,” he said.
In his Good Friday talk, he plans to explain his “radical change” by way of a true-life story. It’s about a bird that became trapped in his greenhouse, and how in some ways he was also trapped.
Rather than judging others, Kerr cites the two commandments he seeks to live by: To love God with all one’s heart, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. In daily life, he said, that means trying to be kind, earnest about his faith, respectful of all people, and reliable.
Kerr said his story is being told in a documentary film, titled “Galloping Upstream.”
Holding the broom he used to free that bird from his greenhouse, Kerr looked out at the landscape Monday. From his yard, he sees the farmland below, and in the distance Camano and Lummi islands.
“There’s hope for mankind,” he said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; email@example.com.
Kerr at breakfast
The 59th annual Snohomish County Community Prayer Breakfast, sponsored by the YMCA of Snohomish County, is scheduled for 7 a.m. April 19 in the Edward D. Hansen Conference Center at Angel of the Winds Arena, 2000 Hewitt Ave., Everett. Keynote speaker will be chef and TV personality Graham Kerr, who starred in “The Galloping Gourmet.” Tickets $40 per person (event not a fundraiser). Reservation deadline April 10 (or by sell-out). Tickets: call 425-374-5732, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or online at https://ymca-snoco.org/pb/