By: KASIA DIETZ
Ninety-two miles east of Manhattan in the swanky postcard lushness of Southampton, Katherine Lee, of Milton, West Virginia – a 2,400-person town kissed by Appalachian coal country – completely gets the unbreakable threads of roots in a tapestry of queenly trappings. A Southern belle, known America-wide as Katie Lee Biegel, her stately purses are armed with hot sauces, ready for unleashing down-homey tang while jaunting from The Bahamas to Biloxi, from Monterey to Miami. As host of cooking shows The Kitchen, What Would Katie Eat?, and Beach Bites, flavor isn’t just her job, it represents her textbook trajectory of The American Dream – from small-town obscurity to uptown celebrity chef whose gumption, talent and beauty propelled her to culinary stardom and fantastical travels. From mega-rural mill country to Long Island millions, she’s come a long way, baby.
“West Virginia is so beautiful, but terribly underrated. With so much hiking, whitewater rafting and skiing, the focus of West Virginia really should be tourism. An eye toward the future.” Her mom is still there, as are her roots. Alluringly, when Katie speaks, she’s present and thoughtful, decisive and real. She means it
Cooking in her kitchen-turned-TV-studio alongside husband Ryan Biegel, they create killer cauliflower and chorizo tacos, intertwining arms, looking lovingly, awash in almond flour tortillas, napa cabbage, and sriracha-bathed black beans. A TV producer with Bradley Cooper-esque looks, Ryan’s also good on camera when not working behind the scenes on Bravo’s The Real Housewives of New York City or Netflix’s Somebody Feed Phil. While producing Streets of Dreams with Marcus Lemonis in Miami’s Little Havana, Katie told Ryan to hit Sanguich De Miami. They married at sunset on Italy’s dreamy Amalfi Coast in 2018, and now share one year old daughter Iris Marion. Katie chose Iris’ first name, while Ryan contributed her middle epithet, an homage to Indiana Jones’ strong, love interest in Raiders of The Lost Ark. Iris, now venturing into solids, loves Katie’s egg noodles bathed in beef stroganoff sauce. It’s a family affair.
“I spent the entirety of the 2020 quarantine at home pregnant, then gave birth during coronavirus. My silver lining was being able to enjoy my pregnancy, with zero FOMO, comfortable and relaxing with Iris,” Katie shares about her journey. “I had so much quality time with her.” Filming from home for various shows, armed with GoPros, tripods and ring lights, the new mom didn’t miss a beat. “With Iris, life is definitely different. My priorities have changed and shifted. I love being a mom. I’m completely obsessed with her.”
This year-long Hamptons lockdown nesting didn’t just produce a child; it inspired Katie to pen her fourth cookbook, It’s Not Complicated, released in March. In the notorious world of tough-crowd Amazon commentary, Katie’s latest book of recipes & kitchen tips rates 4.7 out of 5 with over 1,300 reviews. Book’s muse is a surprising pick – the film writer, producer and director Nancy Meyers. With romantic comedies like It’s Complicated with Meryl Streep and Steve Martin, What Women Want with Helen Hunt and Mel Gibson, and Something’s Gotta Give with Diane Keaton and Jack Nicholson, Meyer’s sophisticated, relatable, approachable take on family life inspired Katie. “It’s the sense of comfort in her movies. I love how I feel when watching them and wanted to create an everyday cookbook with food that makes you feel comforted. Easy to make, relaxed, delicious food for a Tuesday night dinner, or a casual dinner party with friends.”
On the book’s cover, a brunette-fresh Katie radiates with bright-eyed youthful dewiness flanked by simple white wine and pasta atop a rustic wooden table. Like her personal spaces at home, neutral colors of dreamy whites, tans and light woods permeate the accompanying photography, which includes a trip to a Hampton’s farmers market. When it comes to gardening, one might wonder if the chef has illustrious beds of vegetables, berries and herbs growing in her backyard to create some celebrity chef version of farm to table utopia. Her answer is a resounding and sensible no. “I leave farming to the pros. It’s tough, time-consuming work – and it’s expensive! – to get things right, so the local farmer’s market is absolutely the place to go.”
Fresh produce aside, being a celebrity chef in the Hamptons has myriad of perks. Just down the street in East Hampton lives the legendary Ina Garten, Barefoot Contessa on Food Network, who has had Katie over for lunch to make gourmet pizzas. “Hanging out and cooking with Ina at her house was everything you can imagine and more.”
With The Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival 2022 approaching in February, Katie has rubbed shoulders with foodie fans for a whopping 15 festivals, helming live cooking demonstrations, hosting dinners and non-stop photo ops on the sand. “I love, love, love going to Miami and seeing my other chef friends. It’s like a high school reunion,” she says. Katie’s particularly close with Bobby Flay, and keeps in constant contact with her The Kitchen co-hosts Geoffrey Zakarian, Jeff Mauro and Sunny Anderson. “One year during Bubble Q, I made my Logan County Burgers and another chef ate seven of them. They’re a thin, grilled cheeseburger, like a patty melt. I then decided to make them at the New York Wine & Food Festival Burger Bash and they won.”
Beyond SBWFF, Katie knows Miami well, having wintered here months at a time for years. “I love the energy, the pulse, and the richness of the culture of Miami.” When in town, she can be spotted at The Four Seasons at The Surf Club, Cecconi’s at SoHo House, and Matador Room at The Miami Beach Edition. This country girl loves the country but make no mistake. Katie is a city girl too.