Mom Next Door: Sarah Penrod / Celebrity Chef and Mom of Two
Sarah Penrod takes Texas proud to a whole new level. She’s a virtual evangelist for what she calls “New Modern Texan” fare (read: comfort food with an elevated twist), and her cooking prowess has landed her in the kitchens of politicians and professional athletes, and on the television screens of millions of Americans. (She’s perhaps best known for her appearance on Food Network Star, a competitive cooking show.)
“I come from a family of entertainers,” says the Dallas-Fort Worth native, 32. “I started in musical theater; I wanted to be a country music singer. I went through a lot of phases. The one thing that was there the whole time was a love of food and deep respect for chefs.”
Unable to shake that love, Penrod began her journey by applying to the New England Culinary Institute where she was awarded a $10,000 scholarship. But she never made it to Vermont. Instead, she met a boy (now-husband Dereck, a sales manager at Park Place Motorcars Grapevine) and the rest, as they say, is history.
The couple landed in Phoenix, where Penrod attended Scottsdale Culinary Institute. But it wasn’t long before Texas beckoned them home and the Penrods welcomed two boys — Gabriel, 5, and Micah, 3.
While the family grew, so did Penrod’s career — and it hasn’t stopped since. Penrod scored personal chef gigs with athletes including basketball player Tony Parker and Dallas Star Tyler Seguin (who she currently cooks for); was tapped by the White House to participate in the Chefs Move to Schools, a program where a chef adopts a school and partners with teachers and parents to teach them that healthy eating can be fun; and most recently, secured her first book deal. A year and a half in the making, Urban Cowgirl is slated to hit major bookstores Mother’s Day 2017.
Did you always want to write a cookbook?
No, I feel like an accidental writer. Writing is so left brain and right brain I didn’t think I could do it, but I loved it.
Was it more difficult than you expected?
It’s easy to write recipes, but it takes a certain kind of person to write a cookbook. It’s a tremendous amount of work — writing the recipes, testing the recipes and writing the intros. I respect writers a lot more now.
Can you pinpoint what it was that really catapulted your career?
Tony Parker was my fourth or fifth client. That’s when he was married to Eva Longoria. I started doing all of their parties and political fundraisers. I feel like that was my big break. That’s when Food Network came on the scene.
Do you have a favorite cookbook?
That’s hard! Right now I’m reading the James Beard award-winner Yucatán: Recipes From a Culinary Expedition by David Sterling. It’s enormous! But my favorite changes. You should see my cookbook collection; it’s embarrassing.
Do you have a favorite dish to make?
It’s not about the making; it’s about the eating and how the food makes you feel. Tex-Mex is what I go to when I need a boost.
What’s your favorite spot for Tex-Mex around the Dallas-Fort Worth area?
I never give out the name! There’s this little taqueria next to my house. I go by myself. They don’t speak a lot of English and I don’t speak a lot of Spanish, but we all sit together and drink Strawberry Fanta. I go if I need to brainstorm or recharge. It’s like my version of a clubhouse.
Does your family have a favorite dish that you make?
My husband and I are probably just like every other 30-something couple: We want to make good food, but we also want to maintain our weight. We’re in a place right now where we’re trying to make healthy, whole-food meals.
What is a typical day in your life like?
Mondays and Tuesdays I’m still a personal chef. Other than that I’ve kind of scaled back because of the book. Thursdays are mommy-baby day. We go to Movie Tavern and grub and play. Sometimes we go hiking. I’m really into doing an activity of some kind.
How would you describe your parenting style?
I’m really laidback. I pray every night that God shows me what I should encourage in them — the natural abilities that I can help nurture. I like to observe and try to figure out what kind of Pokémon we’re growing. Children have all of the programming they need. We’re just here to help them.
What are some of your favorite things to do as a couple?
We really don’t have anyone to watch our kids so we have to get creative. Most of the time we’re together as a family. The kids are our best friends.
Coolest things about being a mom
How awe-inspiring it is that you have no control. It’s like somebody gives you a potted plant and you don’t know what kind it is. You water it everyday and it grows!
If you could invite anyone over for dinner, who would it be?
Jesus. I would be firing off questions like, “How do we make the world a better place?”
Do you have a dream celebrity client?
No. The first time I met Eva Longoria, it was like I couldn’t even talk around her. And then one day that just breaks. I guess after you meet enough people and see them in their normal state, you realize they’re all just like us. A dream for me would be to cook at the White House.
What are competitive cooking shows really like?
It’s a strange marriage between marketing and storytelling. It’s not a good examination of what being a chef is like.
If you could have one superpower what would it be?
Making people happy. Being able to walk up to someone and give them a hug and make them feel warm and valued. I think the world would be a better place if we could all stop being so distracted and just understand our purpose.
Three words to describe you
Persistent, artsy, maybe a little humorous. I don’t take anything seriously.
If you had 24 hours all to yourself, what would you do?
I’d eat everything — twice.