Quirky cooking show a fun pandemic project that also educates

Matthew Terrell is host and creator of "Living the Dream," a web series that debuts April 15 at www.goddessblessyou.com. Courtesy of Matthew Terrell
Matthew Terrell is host and creator of "Living the Dream," a web series that debuts April 15 at www.goddessblessyou.com. Courtesy of Matthew Terrell

Matthew Terrell demonstrates the art of ‘Living the Dream’

Far in the future, how will you answer the question: What did you do during the pandemic? Will you say you reorganized the kitchen cabinets? Mastered the art of sourdough bread baking? Packed on the dreaded COVID 19? No matter your answer, it likely will pale compared with Matthew Terrell’s response. He created and starred in a cooking lifestyle show filled with goofy humor and wacky visitors, including Bubblegum the cat and a crawdad named Beyon-scray.

“Hi, y’all. My name is Matthew Terrell, and I’m living the dream.” That’s how the 35-year-old communications director for Dad’s Garage Theatre starts each 30-minute episode of “Living the Dream,” a four-part web series that begins streaming for free April 15 at goddessblessyou.com.

Filmed in Terrell’s Little Five Points kitchen, “Living the Dream” has a loose, do-it-yourself style that gleefully incorporates animation, puppetry and costumed characters designed to target a young-adult audience.

“I wanted to format this in a way that the storyline, the way it’s produced, and also the way it’s distributed, worked for how younger audiences, like millennials, are consuming media these days,” he said.

Millennials may be the target audience of “Living the Dream,” but experienced home cooks can learn a thing or two, as well. For instance, Terrell’s make-ahead, oven-baked roux for gumbo is a revelation. And, the way he throws together a mole from scratch for Taco Tuesday makes the typically labor-intensive sauce look surprisingly simple to prepare.

Busy cooks will appreciate Terrell’s semi-homemade hacks, such as using store-bought pizza dough for a pie topped with mortadella and a homemade sauce; or chicken fingers from the deli for stuffing tacos served with homemade corn tortillas and mole.

“For me, it’s very important to know what my strengths are, and what my priorities are in the kitchen — to know where are the areas I can provide the most improvement, and where are the areas that food science is going to do it better than I ever will,” Terrell said.

Matthew Terrell instructs how to create an oven-baked roux for gumbo on his web series "Living the Dream." Courtesy of Matthew Terrell
Matthew Terrell instructs how to create an oven-baked roux for gumbo on his web series "Living the Dream." Courtesy of Matthew Terrell

“A classic example for me is anything related to dough or yeast,” he said. “If I try to touch a yeast dough, it will come out like a brick. I know that I should just buy the pizza dough at the store, and it’s going to be better than I would have made myself. But, then, that freedom of having bought that at the store gives me a lot of time to focus on other areas where I can be more creative, and spend more time in terms of the toppings and how I want the sauce to be, and all the other things involved with the recipe. Same with the mole sauce. A homemade mole sauce and a homemade tortilla, honestly, you’re not going to get that in the store.”

Coming up with creative shortcuts isn’t the only thing that sets Terrell’s cooking show apart.

“One thing that I’m very interested in is providing entertaining aspects that are perhaps fictional or fantastical,” he said. “You’re going to learn information, but there’s a puppet cat, and there’s animation, and there’s someone playing a vegan Meemaw. There’s all kinds of fun stuff that’s going to happen during each episode.”

The show was funded by a grant from Fulton County Arts and Culture, for artists to create digital content during the pandemic.

“I’ve watched cooking shows ever since I was a tiny little boy,” Terrell said. “They’re probably one of my favorite sources of entertainment. And, when you’ve watched thousands of hours of a specific genre, you eventually start to cook up in your head what you would do if you were in charge of the production.”

When he heard about the grant, “the first thing I thought of was, let’s make a cooking show.”

Most “Living the Dream” episodes focus on home entertainment, and include cocktail recipes and suggestions for making guests comfortable, like providing thin lap blankets when dining outside. But, the “Me Day” episode shares self-care tips, like buying yourself a gift (Terrell opts for delivery of Molton Brown skin care products) and a tour of Terrell’s pillow collection. The overall effect is quirky and cozy.

No stranger to projects that marry home cooking with other art forms, Terrell is the creator of “The Magnolia Bayou Country Club Ladies Auxiliary Cooking and Entertaining Book,” a 2020 fictional community cookbook, like the kind produced by churches and the Junior League. The town the book is based on, and the characters who inhabit it, are all products of Terrell’s imagination, but the homey recipes, for delicacies such as grape delight and cream cheese egg rolls, are tried and true.

When asked to name his three fantasy dinner party guests, Terrell answered like someone who already had given the question a lot of thought: “RuPaul, Dolly Parton and either Martha Stewart or Nigella Lawson.” It’s a guest list perfectly suited for Terrell’s approach to “Living the Dream” — down to earth, outrageous and smart.

As for living the dream in real life, Terrell’s philosophy is simple: “Minimal effort for maximal pleasure.”

“Living the Dream.” Debuts April 15. Free. goddessblessyou.com

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