If you’re a fan of the Food Network or – let’s be honest – a fan of food, you’ve probably heard of The Pioneer Woman.
Her Food Network TV show is consistently the top-rated show on the network.
She’s a New York Times #1 bestselling author several times over.
She offers home goods and clothing at Walmart.
There's even a line of dog food.
And she runs her empire – she hates that word, by the way – from her sprawling ranch in Pawhuska, Oklahoma – about an hour from Tulsa.
Did I mention her real name? Ree Drummond.
During COVID, while most of us were just trying to keep it together, Ree wrote another bestselling cookbook.
She joined TikTok.
Lost 55 pounds.
Lost and found her joy of cooking.
And enlisted her kids to shoot her popular TV show.
Which is where we start our chat.
REE DRUMMOND: In April, when we had all settled into isolating, our person at Food Network said, “You know, what would you think if we sent you some iPhones, maybe get your kids to just film an episode and see how it goes?” And at the time I thought, there is absolutely no way this will work. But within a week we had the equipment, we had the tripods, and we just decided to jump in and try it.
ALINA CHO: Well, the need for content never stops, right?
REE DRUMMOND: Exactly. And when I reflect on the whole experience of having my kids shoot my television show, I mean, it still sounds so funny to think about it, but it's served so many purposes. For one, it really gave them a much-needed purpose and vocation.
ALINA CHO: Right.
REE DRUMMOND: It was a difficult time for everybody, but for young people I think it was particularly grueling and confusing. But also, an unexpected benefit was that it allowed me to explore a whole new kind-of natural way of filming. You know, completely no script.
ALINA CHO: Right.
REE DRUMMOND: Filming recipes as they happen, the way they really happen. Bloopers and all. And joke around, off the cuff.
A lot of those things, in a produced TV show, wind up on the cutting room floor. And so, if not for this time of shooting with my kids, we probably never would have figured out that whole vibe.
ALINA CHO: The audience probably ate it up, right?
REE DRUMMOND: Honestly, the initial reaction was so strong and so positive. People were like, “Gosh, this is amazing.”
ALINA CHO: I’m sure.
REE DRUMMOND: So, it was sort-of stripped of the polish. It’s all always been me, but the pandemic shows were me completely unfiltered and unpolished. So, I think the show going forward will be very different than the old show.
ALINA CHO: I'm curious to know, because of the pandemic, whether that changed the way you approached recipes.
REE DRUMMOND: Oh, they absolutely changed.
ALINA CHO: I honestly can't believe this, but you came out with yet another New York Times #1 bestselling cookbook. During COVID.
REE DRUMMOND: So, you know, I wrote about this in the cookbook, but I just completely lost the joy of cooking. It was just about churning out volume. Because everyone in my house is over six feet tall, it seems, and especially these football players.
ALINA CHO: You've got big eaters.
REE DRUMMOND: Exactly. Feeding a guy who's 6'5", it's about volume. Like, a single sandwich won't work.
ALINA CHO: Yeah.
REE DRUMMOND: And all the restaurants were closed for a time, so it was all me. And I just lost my religion over the whole thing.
ALINA CHO: You're the one who had to keep the trains running.
REE DRUMMOND: Right. So, I really started giving myself permission to take shortcuts and use the convenience ingredients that I had in my freezer when the whole thing started. But then interestingly, when we were filming the show with the kids, the more elaborate the recipe, the longer the day of shooting was, so just from all angles, it was so much better to develop and use recipes that had fewer ingredients, that had shorter cook times.
ALINA CHO: So interesting.
REE DRUMMOND: But the fun thing was those recipes are what the new cookbook was about.
ALINA CHO: Let’s talk about your decision to lose weight. Do I have this right? It was something you had the thought about, but then you decided, “I want to get in shape for [my daughter] Alex’s wedding.”
REE DRUMMOND: Oh, yes. [My weight] had crept up through the years. But you know, I was in this position where I could not get away from food. I wrote cookbooks, I had a cooking show, I have a cooking website, I have a restaurant and bakery. And I just literally could not escape food. Not that I tried very hard to escape food. I love food.
ALINA CHO: But it was all around you.
REE DRUMMOND: It was all around me. You know, late 40s, early 50s. Gave myself a lot of excuses not to exercise because I was so busy with work. I was a ballet dancer growing up. I always appreciated being in shape. And so, I just got to a point where I thought, “I do not know myself anymore.”
ALINA CHO: I love how you wrote about it [on your Pioneer Woman blog] and I thought it was so smart the way you did it, because you basically made a list of here's what I didn't do and here’s what I did do.
REE DRUMMOND: Right. I know myself, and I have tried Keto and all it did was make me loathe foods that I love. Avocado and cheese. Because that's all you can eat, is just, you know, fat.
ALINA CHO: Yeah. Exactly.
REE DRUMMOND: I knew that exercise was huge, and I just stopped giving myself excuses there. So, I started walking, rowing, Pilates. And then I also started building muscle. So, I started squats and lunges and all those butt and leg exercises. And then, I also started upping my protein percentage, really actively trying to eat about 35 percent protein every day.
ALINA CHO: So, was it just a matter of sort-of everything in moderation?
REE DRUMMOND: I didn't cut out anything except alcohol and just straight sugar. So, I really went about four months with no alcohol, and about four or five months where I kind-of tried to avoid added sugar.
ALINA CHO: Right.
REE DRUMMOND: I just knew that I had to have a period of pretty intense discipline at first. And so, I really front loaded that. And saw really fast results.
ALINA CHO: So, when you say fast results, do you feel comfortable telling me how much weight you lost?
REE DRUMMOND: Absolutely. Between the middle of January to May 1st , which [was Alex’s] wedding, I think I lost 34 pounds.
ALINA CHO: Oh my God.
REE DRUMMOND: And then since then — from May  to January , I've lost an additional 20.
ALINA CHO: I think this is important to say. We are much more than the number on our scale. But having said that, how do you feel?
REE DRUMMOND: You're so right. And I've emphasized that, too. But how do I feel? That's actually the most important motivator for me.
ALINA CHO: Well, right.
REE DRUMMOND: Even after the wedding, because you know, the wedding, I fit into my dress, I had a great time. I could have just stopped, but I felt so good. And I was clearer and brighter. I just felt better about myself. My outlook was more positive. And I felt stronger. I just loved the way that felt. And so that really is what fueled the time after the wedding and the weight came off, very slowly and gradually. And because of that, I feel a little bit more confident about my long-term success.
ALINA CHO: Is there one favorite recipe that came out of the pandemic, a super easy one, if you will?
REE DRUMMOND: Oh, absolutely. One of the earliest recipes we made, it sounds so funny, they're fish stick tacos.
ALINA CHO: Ooh, yum.
REE DRUMMOND: And I'm talking fish sticks that I grew up with in the '70s. And they still sell them. They're in bulk bags. They’re super thin.
ALINA CHO: I know what you're talking about.
REE DRUMMOND: We made a big pan of those and put them in the oven until they were crisp. And then we made cilantro lime slaw, had these delicious tiny flour tortillas and queso fresco cheese. We made these sort-of gourmet little fish tacos out of '70s-style fish sticks from the freezer.
ALINA CHO: That's kind-of genius.