The sun streams in through Oprah's kitchen windows; birds chirp in the garden. Outside, a spring mix of flowers. Inside, Oprah is making lunch for her longtime beau, Stedman Graham, expertly assembling his favorite sandwich from a recipe she created herself. It's a multilayered affair, rich with fresh tomato and avocado, dripping with melted cheese and sautéed scallions, anchored by savory smoked turkey. This is a lovely moment, one you might even call intimate -- except for the 30-person camera crew surrounding them.
Knowing that Oprah delights in cooking -- and by all accounts is quite fantastic at it—we asked her to share a few of her secrets, including the Love Sandwich. Don't worry, you won't need heart-shaped bread. That was a sweet touch that came from O food stylist Rori Trovato. And we know the sandwich was delectable. On the night before the shoot, Rori followed Oprah's recipe and made a beautifully grilled, heart-shaped stunner. She placed it on a plate and left it in the kitchen. In the morning, the plate was still there. And the Love Sandwich? Gobbled in the night by persons unknown. All that remained were a few scattered crumbs.
The next morning, Rori made another one, shown here. To learn the true source of the Love Sandwich's irresistibility, read on.
O: How often do you cook?
Oprah: I've had chefs over the years who have come to work for us, and what we've learned is it's much easier for me to just do it myself on the weekends. So when Stedman and I are alone, I basically do all the cooking.
O: How would you describe yourself in the kitchen?
Oprah: I'm absolutely an improvisational cook -- a makeshift cook. I don't like looking at recipes, and even if I do use one, I will adjust it to whatever feels right to me. It'll be based on what is here, and what is in the garden. So it's gonna involve some kind of herb -- basil is my favorite -- and usually some kind of grain or pasta. I tried ginger herb rice the other day because that's all I had.
O [to Stedman]: Is Oprah a good cook?
Stedman: Chefs don't have anything on her.
Oprah: Well, chefs do -- I mean...
Stedman: But you're a fantastic cook. You put a lot of love in the work you do, and it crosses over into the food you make. Anything she cooks I really enjoy eating, and I appreciate it very much.
O: Which brings us to the Love Sandwich. How did you create it and why?
Oprah: One day there was some pepper Jack cheese in the refrigerator, and there was some turkey in there, and there were some avocados on the table. It became the Love Sandwich because I first started making it just for Stedman. I've only made it for a couple of other people, so if you've had me make the Love Sandwich for you, you have to be somebody I really care about. I think anything that you do should be done with the utmost care -- it's like giving a part of yourself. So when I'm sautéing the little scallions and I'm slicing the avocado and making sure -- because he likes his tomatoes thin—that the tomatoes are perfectly thin, it'll all be done with love. That's why we call it the Love Sandwich.
Stedman: She makes great pancakes, too. She makes great eggs, she makes great steaks -- I mean, you could go on and on and on. She's just an exceptional cook and an exceptional person.
Oprah: Thank you, honey.
Stedman: And all the work she does and the effort she puts into anything she does...
Oprah: Thank you! Big time! Hey, honey, what do you think is the best thing I've ever made?
Stedman: The best thing you made was when you marinated the chicken overnight -- how'd you do that?
Oprah: With the herbs. I went to the garden and I picked herbs, and then I pulverized the herbs, and then I rubbed the herbs on the chicken, and then let it sit overnight, and then sautéed the chicken in a skillet with the herbs.
Oprah: Remember when I did the rosemary rice?
Stedman: The rosemary rice was a hit.
Oprah: The rosemary rice was a hit! You just get fresh rosemary and clip it and stir it up in the rice. It's as easy as that.
Stedman: Your homemade blueberry pancakes are fantastic. They're to die for.
Oprah: Yep. And I also make my own blueberry syrup. To go on the blueberry pancakes. Wasn't that good that morning?
Stedman: No, she's good. She's good.
Oprah: Sometimes we're sitting here in beautiful California and Stedman's eating grits and catfish, and I'll say, "I do believe you're the only person in California who's having grits and catfish right now." Certainly in Montecito.
Stedman: I'm a lucky guy. No question.
Stedman Graham is the author of IDENTITY: Passport to Freedom.