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New KPBS Television Shows Explore San Diego

April 29, 2013 1:30 p.m.


Garden designer, author and botanist, Nan Sterman, is host of the new KPBS series "A Growing Passion"

Su Mei Yu is a cook, author and restaurant owner, and now host of the KPBS series, "Savor San Diego"

Related Story: New KPBS Television Shows Explore San Diego


This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We welcome two KPBS guests to talk about two new TV shows that help us all. Explore San Diego. It is 12:23 and you're listening to KPBS Midday Edition. This is KPBS Midday Edition. I am Maureen Cavanaugh. San Diego is widely acknowledged as a great place to live. We have the ocean, the climate, the sunshine, the list goes on and on but you know, we've actually got an actual organic tofu manufacturing plant in the county have a six-generation rancher producing grass fed beef or that there are 2000 native plants found in San Diego at many of those plants can survive all summer without water? Well, two new shows coming up on KPBS TV introduce us to places and people in San Diego that you have never seen. The shows are hosted by two women that are passionate about the richness of San Diego's land and cuisine. I'd like to introduce my guests both familiar to listeners of Midday Edition. Nan Sterman is garden designer author botanist, host of the new KPBS TV series a growing passion. Nan, it's good to see you.

NAN STERMAN: Thanks so much for having me

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Su Mei Yu is a cook, author, restaurant owner and now KPBS host of Savor San Diego. Su Mei, welcome.

SU MEI YU: Thank you.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I want to ask you both, this started with a competition that
KPBS TV held last year the Explore San Diego project to create more local programming. There were 52 entries. Yours were the only ones that were selected. Su Mei, what did you want to bring to audiences with your show?

SU MEI YU: I really like people to get back in the kitchen and cook. I really do. I think it's such a wonderful event to that binds us all together. It is an event that helps us to remember where we came from, who we are and helps us to nurture the earth, because if we don't cook, we don't know where our food comes from.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Nan, what is the driving force behind what you wanted to bring to audiences?

NAN STERMAN: You know, I've been writing about gardens and exploring gardens and passionate about gardening for so many years and there are so many wonderful stories about things going on right here in St. Diego County, things that people don't have any idea what grows here, what they can grow here. So my goal was to celebrate all things that grow in San Diego and get people involved in similar to sue, get people back to the land, to get their hands in the dirt and help them understand they can be part of the growing process.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: There have been many shows getting gardening advice and if you have to do a really short idea of what a growing passion as you'd say it was a guard shown, but it's really not just a how-to show. It's really about connecting with the land in San Diego is to

NAN STERMAN: Absolutely, not just connecting the land but connecting to the people connected with the land because we go visit farms and nurseries and people growing backyard in schools and native habitats and all kinds of ways, every way San Diego grows that's where we want to be.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And Su Mei, each episode you prepare a new recipe but this is not an average cooking show, tell me what makes it different?

SU MEI YU: The show is about the people, my friends that I have known for many years because I cook and they are the people who not only produce, but they caught, they do wonderful things with wonderful ingredients in San Diego, right here. You don't have to buy something from Iowa. You don't have to buy something from Mexico. Right here in San Diego, you can have the best life prawns, the best beef, organic baked tofu made by a white guy, but he makes really good organic tofu and there are gardens abound that grow the most wonderful, beautiful things and I got to know them because I cook. So when we decided to do the show, I said you know, the show is about them. If I could get people excited about what we could buy, or what we could grow or what we could find in San Diego, then perhaps we could entice them and draw them back into the kitchen and start cooking.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's listen to a clip from a growing passion here and started talks with Brian West of recon native plants nursery.

NAN STERMAN: How many types of plants do you grow

NEW SPEAKER: We grow 400 species of plants San Diego has about 2000 native species so we grow many of those different plant communities. We also use controlled drought here at the nursery so we do not water the plants as much as they would probably like. The idea of that is producing a plant that will be compact, hearty, and will be able to withstand some of the stresses on a large restoration project.

NAN STERMAN: In our home gardens, we can mix the California natives in with other low-water Mediterranean climate plants, or we can plant habitat gardens. It's all good. Just keep in mind that just because a plant is native to California doesn't mean it's necessarily native to your garden.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That is a clip from Nan Sterman's hosting a growing passion, new TV show coming up on KPBS television. I know you and I have talked a number of times and about the kind of plans that work here in San Diego. How unique a gardening situation we actually have here in studio in San Diego. Has there been a lot of confusion about plans that work in climate with a long season and limited water supply?

NAN STERMAN: Yes a lot of confusion and it doesn't have to do it the long growing season capacity with seasonal pattern in fact we don't get any rain in the summer and in most areas of the country there is summer rainfall, so the plants that grow in Minnesota, in Michigan, Massachusetts. People come here thinking they will grow the same plants and they can't because we don't have submarine so it's a huge education process and even if you grew up here until very recently, all of the information about gardening that we had access to was for those regions. It didn't apply to us so there was tremendous confusion.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Your show celebrates the San Diego growing environment but are there also words of warning?

NAN STERMAN: What do you mean?

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: In the sense that we do have a limited water supply

NAN STERMAN: Oh. Absolutely. So the message of sustainability, water conservation, what we have opportunities how they permeate everything we do. We focus on what we can do here because that is our focus. That is what we should be doing.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And let's hear a clip from Su Mei, this is a clip from Savor San Diego.

SU MEI YU: The part of her story is in a very different area of the county, in the vast open of Palomar Mountain in Mindanao Ranch, there is a six generation rancher. Raising grass fed cattle.

SU MEI YU (recorded): Hi Joe


SU MEI YU: I can't believe this. This is like a John Wayne movie.


SU MEI YU: This is a beautiful country. So where are your cattle?

NEW SPEAKER: The cattle are out on the ranch.

SU MEI YU: Can you show me?


SU MEI YU: I have to get on a horse. you know I'm a city girl from Bangkok, I don't know how to do this.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Su Mei, how did you manage the horse?

SU MEI YU: Well, they kind of helped to push me up and when I came back down the horse I said I'm not going to get on the horse with a lift me up and take me down. They said don't go from the back, don't look at the horse in the back. I don't know.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This was sort of a real revelation to see that there was actually a cattle ranch in San Diego County. Grass fed cattle.

SU MEI YU: Yeah and it's been there since 1850, that just boggles my mind. Because you know I love the Civil War story as a foreigner I read a lot about the Civil War, and to think and imagine that is six generation grandfather was there even before the Civil War. They went there to capture some bandits, or something and ended up raising cows.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Wow, you opened (inaudible) the first restaurant in San Diego in 1985. There is no doubt, I mean, we've talked about this with you here, too, that you are a wonderful chef. How did that prepare you to host this show, do you think?

SU MEI YU: None. I'd rather be in the kitchen cooking where I'm under control. As you look at the series, the episode at the end when I do the cooking, I am in control. It is me. It's my recipe. The rest of it, it is a story that is put together by all these different intelligent people who is telling you what to do, how to do it, when to smile, when not to be too serious. And when to be very serious, not to joke a lot about things.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's funny, and now will each of the episodes end with you cooking?

SU MEI YU: Yes, it's going to and with me preparing something special out of the wonderful ingredients.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That we see from the earlier part of the show.

SU MEI YU: I do show with the beef and tofu. We will put the two things together and I cook it the way I think these two ingredients would really enhance the flavor of the dish and there is one with uni, you know, the, what do you call it, the sea urchin. Yeah, yeah, so every single one ended up and that's when I' in total control. That's Me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: When you are in total control. Now and, how much of the growing passion is devoted to veggie garden as opposed to flowers and their critics?

NAN STERMAN: Every episode is different and since they are thematic, it's just been some papers that we have a wonderful episode uncut flowers tracing the path of cut flowers to field from vase because we have a very large cut flowers industry. The backcountry and even in the more urban areas. So we go out to look at Proteus, the most exotic flowers growing and trace the whole process and we go also farmer market and we do a floral arranging lesson with Renée (inaudible), so in that particular episode. There's not an edible component because it doesn't fit the theme but then we have a whole episode on edibles and we visit seedling growers and farmers markets and we do that how to and all that. So just depends on the episode.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I see. You know most of the shows are really very polished and finished products. I've seen some advance copies, Nan, but putting together the show, as you mentioned, Su Mei is a lot of work. Nan, was it more than you anticipated?

NAN STERMAN: I wouldn't say that is more than I anticipated. I've had enough experience to know what I was getting myself into, and it is an enormous amount of work. You know, when you watch a finished show you have no idea what goes into making that happen. We have a whole crew, there are four or five of us on site matter where we are.

SU MEI YU: And most of these things are done outdoors.

NAN STERMAN: Outdoors, which is much more difficult, that's right, and that's on the captured video. The ghost to postproduction. There's editing, there's music, I just did voiceovers this morning in your space. I'm sorry I shocked you when I walked in there's a huge amount of work that goes into it. It's all worth it but it is surprising to most people to understand what goes to make a show.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So, it also surprised you, Su Mei?

SU MEI YU: You have to have scripts, you can't just go out there and just start talking.


SU MEI YU: It's limited, and you want to tell a story because it has to make sense to people who don't have any idea what you're talking about and to draw their attention so they don't flip it. Go watch a commercial someplace else. So that fell within the background in the context of putting together a show. And, the things that you can't control, the seasons, the airplanes.

NAN STERMAN: I was going to say. Both of those, how do you shoot a garden show in winter, that's what we've been doing. That's really difficult and then the airplanes, helicopters, motorcycles

SU MEI YU: The birds

NAN STERMAN: The birds are okay.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: This sounds like it's been a real learning experience for the two of you

SU MEI YU: Great patience

NAN STERMAN: Right, patience. And that is not my strong point.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And did you learn things about people you feature in your shows that you did not know before you started?

SU MEI YU: Yes I did, most of them are my friends, but I didn't know for example that you don't pick avocados when they are ripe on the trees, that you pick them---

NAN STERMAN: I could have told you that

SU MEI YU: I should pick and grow some things from you and they chop down the whole avocado plant so that they look like stumps in order for it to grow again. I didn't know that, and I didn't know how to press oil out of the avocado. It is absolutely miraculous and amazing to see this green water, oil coming out from the tube after it looks like guacamole for about three hours. So, I've learned not only the process, but the people. I mean, in many many ways they are the most resilient, passionate and very dedicated to their tasks and it is not easy to do any of the work that they do.


NAN STERMAN: I find the same thing, a lot of the people that we met and showcased I knew and many not, the advantage that I have is I've been a journalist for many years researching a story an article by researching a story and the joy of doing that is meeting new people and learning about new things. I mean the great thing about what I do in the world is that I'm constantly learning. I'm constantly learning, and that is part of the passion for me. So, a lot of the places we went, you know, we were at the mushroom farm out in Escondido, and I had visited there a couple years ago just on a tour briefly but I hadn't met the owners, had not exploded at the depth that we did and that is one of my favorite segments is visiting to the mushroom farm in Escondido.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's coming up not in the first segment, but its coming up

NAN STERMAN: That is in a later episode on growing and recycling, great recycling story, a fantastic recycling story.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let me tell everyone what the information on the shows are. A growing passion with Nan Sterman premiers this Thursday night at 8:30 PM on KPBS television. San Diego also makes its KPBS TV debut this Thursday night. 8:30 in the evening and I just want the audience to know to KPBS TV will be starting its Explorer San Diego search for new shows again this year, so you can stay tuned for more information. If you've got an idea for a brand-new show from KPBS television. Good luck to both of you and thank you so much for being my guests today.

SU MEI YU: Thank you

NAN STERMAN: Thank you, Maureen.