Firing up the rangeAugust 20, 2014 6:20 AM
Editor's note: Be sure to consult with your vet before changing your dog's diet
Prior to Anthony Bourdain exploring the culinary world with "No Reservations,
" Padma Lakshmi telling "Top Chef" contestants to "Pack your knives and go" and Gordon Ramsay
yelling at everyone he came into contact with, Barbara Venezia was a reality cooking star before
the genre even existed.
In partnership with John Crean, founder of Fleetwood Enterprises and wannabe chef,
Ms. Venezia hosted a weekly PBS comedy cooking program called "At Home on the Range."
Taped from 1992-1998 in the garage of a Newport Beach residence, the program ran in syndication
until 2006, finding a home across the United States and also on Sky 1 television in England, Australia
and New Zealand. The show's rise to fame came about 90 episodes into its 300-plus episode run.
Ms. Venezia recalls the precise moment.
"It was our dog food episode," she told the News-Press. "There was a time when John and his wife were
on some kind of crazy 1990s liquid diet, so instead of cooking a meal, he decided to come up with
a homemade recipe for his dog."
The night we taped it, a reviewer from the Los Angeles Times was in the audience.
"When the story ran and talked about the dog food recipe, we had all this national interest.
We found ourselves on HBO's Entertainment News and 'Eye to Eye with Connie Chung.
' That's also when our audience really grew and a few television networks approached us.
We got a regular segment on ABC's 'The Home Show' that was produced by Woody Fraser."
The dog food recipe remains the most downloaded one on the show's website.
"It makes a pretty large quantity, because John had a big dog," chuckled Ms. Venezia,who was a guest
on the July 31 Nipper's Table Talk and Around the World shows onKZSB AM 1290 (to see the episodes,
go to www.newspress.com and www.atw.tv).
"But you can make it and freeze it in small quantities. It's very healthy and easy to make.
We always used to joke that it isn't too far away from his meatloaf recipe."
Mr. Crean died in early 2007 and Ms. Venezia now works as a lifestyle columnist for the Orange County-based
Daily Pilot and hosts an Internet radio lifestyle show called Living Out Loud.
These days, her sidekick is a Labrador-Chihuahua crossbreed called Stasha, a 2 1/2-year-old rescue dog
that Ms. Venezia found in 2012 at Orange County's Pet Expo.
Stasha is, of course, a beneficiary of her owner's days hosting a celebrated cooking program.
"I cook for Stasha far more than I cook for my husband," Ms. Venezia said.
"At Home on the Range," which is finding a new crop of fans thanks to Mr. Crean's granddaughter, Kelly,
who is digitalizing the 228 surviving episodes for a YouTube channel, started when Mr. Crean
decided he wanted to produce a local cooking program.
In early 1992, Ms. Venezia was working on a series documenting entrepreneurs for an
Orange County cable channel and interviewed Mr. Crean about his rags-to-riches story in the
recreational vehicle business.
A few weeks later, Mr. Crean called Ms. Venezia to tell her he had converted the
5,000-square-foot garage on his Newport Beach estate into a television studio,
complete with a home kitchen. He asked Ms. Venezia if she would come and take a look.
"I walked in and it looked great," Ms. Venezia recalled. "There was professional lighting and a seating area for an audience.
Then he asked me if I wanted to do a cooking show with him and I thought, 'Wow, I'm finally going to learn how to cook!' "
Ms. Venezia signed on as the show's producer with Mr. Crean cooking and instructing to the camera.
Mr. Crean invited his good friend and Rat Pack member Joey Bishop to sit in the audience during the
filming of the first episode.
As filming commenced, Mr. Crean became increasingly uncomfortable in front of the cameras and
invited Ms. Venezia onto the set.
"I got up there and told him I didn't know what to do," Ms. Venezia said.
"He said there's always stirring and that I would become a 'professional stirrer,' and the next thing I know,
he sets the paper towels on fire. Then Joey Bishop jumps up and says, 'Neither one of you are at home on that range.' "
The program quickly evolved into a comedy cooking show that was more of a parody than a serious instructional program.
"John never really got on board with that concept," Ms. Venezia admitted. "But he was a naturally funny guy.
I think the best way to describe him was a W.C. Fields kind of character.
He was kind of a curmudgeon and he really believed that he knew how to cook."
Collecting their recipes from the backs of boxes, bottles and cans, the duo made more than 300 episodes
of the show across the span of six years and in 1999 released a cookbook, "At Home on the Range: The Cookbook for the Deranged."
Why didn't the show find greater national success at a time when reality television was starting to consume the airways?
It wasn't due to a lack of trying.
"I gave the show's promo pack to Robin Leach from the Food Network at a television convention,
but he had no interest," Ms. Venezia said. "But I did get a card from somebody there at the network,
so for the next five years, before the start of every season,
I sent a letter and a promo package pitching them the show.
Every September, I would start a new season by reading the Food Network rejection letter.
"The last one said, 'Please don't contact us again.' "
4 cups cooked instant rice
2 large carrots
3 pounds 30 percent fat hamburger
1/4 cup wheat germ
1 pound cooked navy beans
4 teaspoons beef bouillon
1 teaspoon salt
Cook instant rice as per package instructions. In food processor, shred carrots and potatoes.
Mix them together in large bowl. Wearing rubber cooking gloves, add in meat, eggs, wheat germ,
cooked navy beans, cooked rice, bouillon and salt. Mush this with your hands until there are no lumps in the mixture.
Place mixture in large baking pan. Bake in oven for about 11/2 hours at 350 degrees. Serve at room temperature.
This can be refrigerated and served to your dog for up to 2 weeks. If your dog is a gourmet, you might want
to garnish this with parsley. This can also be served to your mother-in-law with catsup!