Looking at our “queen to be,” Vanessa Bell Calloway, entertaining among friends looks so easy. The dancer, actress, host, wife, and mother may juggle a variety of roles but when it comes to cooking a great meal and planning a great gathering in the company of her friends, she is a natural pro.
Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio, Calloway was thinking more about axel turns and pirouettes than pots and pans and seasonings. While attending Ohio University, she danced on a scholarship with the Alvin Ailey Dance Company during the summers. She returned to New York after college with big dreams of being picked up by a dance company and in the meantime worked in retail to support herself.
“One of my first jobs was at Lord & Taylor and I worked in the china department. Most people thought that was boring, I loved it. I was in heaven. I would go around and feel the china and look at the linens and envision me having all of these things one day,” says Calloway.
Exploring china and linens wasn’t the only thing that New York introduced her to. Being from a typical Midwest family, meals didn’t necessarily represent global cuisine like she enjoys cooking today. “When I got to New York and I got a chance to experiment, I’ll never forget the first time I had lobster. I was in my 20s before I had certain foods because a lot of that stuff my mother didn’t buy and we didn’t go out to restaurants and have stuff like that.”
This “Big Apple” experience was the start of her appreciation and enjoyment of good food.
A Star on Camera and in the Kitchen
Moving from New York to Los Angeles, she landed roles on soap operas (“All My Children”) and in movies. To this day, we can't forget her iconic role in “Coming to America” as Imani Izzi, the princess who was to marry Prince Akeem played by Eddie Murphy.
While she sharpened her acting skills and built an impressive acting resume, she also added foodie and entertaining guru to her list of accolades hosting fabulous gatherings for family and friends. Inspired to create her own show that combined her passion for cooking and entertaining, “In the Company of Friends,” first aired on TV One several years ago and has since moved to a full season of webisodes online at www.inthecompanyoffriends.tv.
Just in conversation, you can feel how much she enjoys her hosting duties that take place several times a year and usually at her house. “I like detail. I think the more detail, the prettier it is and the more the guests appreciate it. So when I am entertaining, I don’t do everything in a day. It is impossible. Even if I am having a dinner party for six, I don’t do everything that day. I at least start a day before,” says Calloway.
“I walk through my house as if I am a guest to see what the guest sees. And then I go, ‘Let me fix that over there, a candle would be nice there, I need to move this over there, more flowers should go right there.’ I become my guest and I walk through my house as a guest several times while I am setting up.”
She even knows how to get creative, using every inch of space she has. She converted her garage which now serves as the food hub for big occasions such as Thanksgiving and knows how to flip her laundry room into a bar when necessary.
In her kitchen, you will most likely see her must-haves which include kosher salt, flavored peppers, olive oil, fresh garlic and garlic powder.
In the refrigerator, she keeps homemade vinegar that is made with rosemary, garlic and jalapenos and a marinade with freshly squeezed lemons and olive oil to taste on hand to brush across veggies before putting them on the grill.
In her wine bar and at the dinner table, you will most likely find a crisp pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc.
Food, Entertaining and Vanessa
Returning last month from the American Black Film Festival in New York, “In the Company of Friends,” was selected among thousands of entries as a finalist for the festival's webisode challenge. The full first season, “The Dinner Party,” features Calloway with celebrity friends enjoying one of her favorite meals while dishing on topics such as what is your guilty pleasure and what flaw have you worked to your advantage.
Season 2, “The Tea Party,” will be released this month and between now and Monday, July 7, fans can go online and post their version of her webisode as part of the “In the Company You Keep” contest for a chance to have their video shown on the website as well as be a guest on Calloways’ blog talk show, “That’s So Very Vanessa!”
For season 3, you may find her in Italy which is one of her favorite spots. “My dream is to go to Italy and do a cooking vacation. I love Italy and the food there is to die for if you really know where to go. I have been there three times and I am really trying to get back.”
For more information about Vanessa Bell Calloway’s upcoming projects, visit her personal website at www.vanessabellcalloway.com and to watch episodes of “In the Company of Friends,” visit www.inthecompanyoffriends.tv.