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Gwyneth Paltrow: Master Chef

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You can’t help but get swept away by the multi-tasking Gwyneth Paltrow. With the release of her first cookbook, the award-winning actress, mother, and creator of GOOP has now added chef to her CV. Stylist sat down with Gwyneth to find out about her latest career move...

We’ve all got one. A list of the things we want to achieve in the next year/by the time we’re 40/before we ‘settle down’. But, while for most of us, that list rests quite happily in our heads, occasionally spurring us on to do something more challenging, there’s one woman who’s written her list, crossed through every point, and probably already started on the next one. That woman is Gwyneth Paltrow; actress, singer, mother, wife, owner and writer of lifestyle email GOOP, and now chef – more of which in a minute. Even more refreshingly, her evolution comes with an attitude that says not so much, ‘carpe diem’ as ‘just do it’.

It’s this Jack-of-all-trades career progression that has attracted Paltrow a scattering of cynical critics who have dismissed her and her foray into the lifestyle arena as smug. But haven’t they totally missed the point? Yes, Paltrow is a handsomely paid member of the Hollywood elite but that doesn’t explain away the fact that she is doing what many of us don’t manage; pushing herself to explore new avenues, experimenting with her interests and passions, and putting into action all those ‘I wish’ conversations that we’ve all had over a bottle of Chablis on a summer’s evening.

The proof is in the pudding (no pun intended). In the last 12 months alone Gwyneth, 38, has taken herself out of her comfort zone more times than many of us will in 12 years. As mentioned, it’s not about the money. And it’s not about the notoriety. Happily yet privately married to Coldplay singer Chris Martin – with whom she has two children, Apple, 6, and Moses, 5 – and daughter to actress Blythe Danner and the late TV and film director Bruce Paltrow, she can’t get any more famous – or accomplished. She was only 26 when she won a Best Actress Oscar for her role in 1998’s Shakespeare In Love, which was followed by roles in critically acclaimed films such as The Talented Mr Ripley (1999), The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), Sylvia (2003), as well as blockbusters like Iron Man (2008) and its sequel last year. No, the drive, comes from somewhere deeper and it’s this that has led to her recent change of direction. Or rather directions.

First, she gave her vocal chords an outing playing alcoholic country and western singer Kelly Canter in this year’s Country Strong, then she popped up as Holly Holliday in Glee – her final episode of which has just aired in the US to huge acclaim and has generated as many column inches as her performance of Forget You with Cee Lo Green at the Grammys three months ago. In each instance far from fearing a bad review, it just seemed like she's having a ball. Indeed, even when her weekly lifestyle newsletter GOOP – which launched in 2008 and shares advice and recommendations sourced from her well-travelled lifestyle and collection of high-profile friends – came under fire, Paltrow revealed a devil-may-care attitude by saying, “Who cares what some lame person out there says? My thing with GOOP has always been, if you don’t like it, then don’t log onto it.”

Which brings us on to her latest venture: her cookery book, Notes From My Kitchen Table. Its release is a brave move (with it, she is joining the ranks of the Nigellas and the Jamies), but not a surprising one when you consider Paltrow’s passion for food has been a long one. First there was her interest in macrobiotic eating – she reveals in her book that she turned to the strict diet when her father got cancer in 1999 to “heal my father by proxy”.

Her GOOP emails too have, for three years, been packed with restaurant reviews and where to buy delicious food; just last week she recommended the best place for royal wedding picnic supplies in London. And from the book – which reads like a love letter to her family and inner circle (she starts by thanking dear friends including ‘the Spielbergs’) – it’s clear that sharing healthy food is one of her greatest pleasures in life. Packed with anecdotes and personal pictures, although true to form, she doesn’t mention husband Chris, she’s included recipes from grilled ‘baked stuffed’ lobsters (not your typical after-work fare), to a variety of pasta and salad dishes that are as simple, and delicious, as anything Delia would do. But it’s Gwyneth’s love for her father that’s the most prominent part of the book, describing him as “the love of my life until his death in 2002” and citing him as the person who taught her about the joy of sharing a meal with the people you love.

Unable to share such a meal due to time constraints, Stylist talks to Gwyneth at an insanely busy time in an insanely busy life – she’s all over the US press after cooking duck ragu straight from her new book for 60 ‘close friends’ and foodies (including comedian Jerry Seinfeld, Cameron Diaz and her mother) one night and interviewing Jay-Z on GOOP the next – yet despite the mania she’s honest, chatty and inspiring. Just another example of that ability to multi-task…

You’ve been cooking non-stop this week. We heard that you cooked for 60 people on Monday…

Monday was a lot to do but it was all good – it went well. I cooked a seated dinner for 60 people and about 25 of those were family and friends; the rest were from the food world.

Was there anyone particularly intimidating there from the foodie world?

There were a couple of cooks like April Bloomfield, an English chef who works in New York and who is amazing; Gabrielle Hamilton, who owns a restaurant called Prune in New York; Ruth Reichl, who ran Gourmet magazine [in the US] for years; Mario Batali… You know, it’s very scary to cook for chefs and then there were food writers like Jeffrey Steingarten from US Vogue. But it was good, you know? It was stressful but it was fun. I drank too much – that was the only problem.

Did you open a bottle of wine while your were cooking?

Yes, exactly. And I ate with everybody too. I ate and I drank and enjoyed it. It was a very nice evening.

You’re carving out a different niche as something of a lifestyle guru these days. How does it feel?

You know, I still feel like I’m very much an actress and that’s my focus. It’s just when I’m home in London and the kids are in their routine and going to school that I use things like GOOP and the cookbook to channel creativity. And I’m a very curious person so I think it’s more that I like sharing information than I’m a lifestyle guru; I’m just saying what works for me or what hasn’t.

When did the idea strike you to launch GOOP?

I guess it was many years in the thinking and making. At first I was just going to make a secret [newsletter] for my friends because they were the ones who would ask me about stuff – it was kind of like I was the one living this amazing, bizarre life, doing things before they were doing things. I was the one living in a foreign country and so I became the person that they would ask everything from, “Well, where do you get a bikini wax in Paris?” to “Where should I eat, and in which hotels?” So I was compiling all of the information for them, and then I thought, ‘Maybe other people would want this information as well.’

Did you think you’d go down the lifestyle route?

No, it’s just sort of happened. I’ve never had a list of things I kind of wanted to accomplish and it’s funny because now I’m looking back thinking, ‘Wow, I’m accomplishing things I never even wanted to accomplish.’ I never could have imagined that I would have sung at the Grammys or something like that.

You’ve also been starring in Glee. Does it feel like you’re having a moment of surrendering to things that are really fun?

I really am and I just feel so lucky that I’m getting the opportunity to try different things. It feels great not to be in a serious period drama and to be singing in Glee and to feel all that fun stuff that comes out of it. It’s been a great year.

You must have been offered some temptingly fun things in the past…

Well, no, I never really got offered anything like that before. There was Shallow Hal [2001] but in terms of really zany comedies, no. The first time I was ever approached to do anything like that was Glee. I always got offered more drama and no comedy.

[[http://www.stylist.co.uk/people/in-pictures-gwyneth-paltrow From actress to lifestyle guru, see Gwyneth's life in pictures here]]

You said recently that those are the kind of things you want to bring your kids on set to. You don’t want to take them on a harrowing drama…

In Country Strong (released in March) the kids were on set and my character had to kill herself at one point, so I had to keep popping up between takes going, “Oh hi guys! [enthusiastically]”. It was crazy. But on Glee they love to come and watch all the singing and dancing and they love all the kids on the show.

A lot of Stylist readers will have defined their career paths at this point. Did you ever feel a pressure to just stick at what you were doing?

I don’t think any of us have to be one thing, y’know. I’m embracing all this new stuff because I feel like we only live one time and everyone has things they want to try and are scared to try. People should feel like ‘F**k it, let me have a try and see’. I think that I’ve scared myself and inspired myself in the risks that I’ve taken in the last year and it’s made me feel like ‘What a great thing to do’. Even if you fail or people don’t like it at first, it’s important to feel like you’re following your passion. You should do something to make yourself feel fulfilled and happy.

Which of the risks you’ve taken has scared you the most?

I think my first live performance at the Country Music Awards [in November 2010] was the scariest because it’s really not my world. Of course I was doing it for promotion for the movie [Country Strong] and the soundtrack and everything but I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, why did I say yes to this?’ I was nervous and most people start singing in front of people in a pub on the corner, not at the CMAs. That was the most intimidating thing for me.

Did it feel like you were going from karaoke to professional singer in a heartbeat?

Yes, although thankfully nobody has paid to see me yet so I don’t have that added pressure [laughs].

Who do you turn to when you feel nervous?

I actually rely a lot on my girlfriend singers, like Beyoncé and Faith Hill, who completely got me through the Country Music Awards. [Hill and her husband Tim McGraw] helped me with the sound and gave me so many tips; I was staying at their house and they just fed me and looked after me. And it was Beyoncé who totally got me through the Grammys with all of her help and advice. I’m very lucky to have friends like that, who number one are amazing friends but also singers who are the best in the world and know how to do it.

So they gave you a bit of a crash course in how to perform?

Before I went on at the Grammys I had Beyoncé in my dressing room and she was just like, “You just have to have fun and let go”. She was like, “You know when we’re just backstage at a Jay concert and you’re just dancing and having fun? Do that. And don’t think about it, just have a great time.” She totally got me through it; she knew what to say and I was like, “You know what? F**k it, I’m just gonna have fun”. And I did. It was really great [laughs]. I had to have a Guinness and a beta blocker before I went on but that was OK.

A Guinness?

Yes, that’s what I always have now before a live performance; a pint of Guinness and a beta blocker.

Who taught you that?

I taught myself [laughs]. I discovered it a while ago when I had a friend who got married in Ireland and I’ve been [in London] for eight years now so it was probably a decade ago that I started drinking it. I love it; it’s my favourite beer. The first time I had a real Guinness I was like, “This is the most delicious thing I’ve ever had in my life.” It was a love affair from then on.

What else do you love about the UK?

We’ve had some really nice holidays. I love the coast but also the country – I think the English countryside is the most beautiful in the world, especially in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. We went to the New Forest last summer and it was beautiful; you know bike rides and the seaside, hiking, fish and chips, I love it all.

Are you a beach bum or activity obsessive?

I’m totally a beach bum on holiday. I used to zone out but now I have little kids I try to snatch moments on the lounger. And then you have to go and make sandcastles and go in the ocean, which is also great. I’m pretty relaxed in the evening too – flip-flops all the way.

What are your other favourite destinations?

Maybe Hawaii. I went when I was 10 for the first time for my dad’s 40th birthday and been back twice since. It’s a spectacular-looking set of islands with an amazing natural landscape with waterfalls and black lava sand beaches. Between my work and my husband’s work we’ve visited a lot of countries – probably every continent except Antarctica.

Which of those places holds the most sentimental memories for you?

Aspen, Colorado, where we went every year growing up as a family for skiing at Christmas. It makes me think of log fires and just getting all cosy.

Given your foodie credentials do you book the restaurants when you’re travelling?

I’ll leave that to chance because I kind of like to find out from the locals what’s great.

Words: Megan Connor. Picture Credit: Getty Images

Learn to cook like Gwyneth - enter our competition to win one of 30 copies of Notes from my Kitchen Table.

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