It’s been a busy few years for Lisa Lillien, known to her devoted followers as “Hungry Girl.” The self-proclaimed “foodologist” has put out four best-selling cookbooks, has about 1,000,000 subscribers to her daily newsletter and has just started the second season of her cooking show, “Hungry Girl,” which has moved from Cooking Channel to Food Network. We chatted with Lillien about what she has in store for viewers this season.
Congratulations on the second season of the show!
Thank you. It is super exciting. And the best part is how many people it’s affecting and how it’s helping people and really truly making a difference, and it’s just fun for me all the time.
How will this season be different from the last?
The new set is very bright and colorful, so it’s a totally new set, and the show itself, I think, has changed. It’s really evolved. I think that there are more recipes, I think the recipes are even better, there’s more field pieces, more creative topics. It’s just a lot of really fun themes and more guests. Last year I only had one guest and this year there’s some surprise guests.
I heard that Miranda Cosgrove came to make spaghetti tacos with you. When are we going to see that?
That will be on in November, I believe. And we had a lot of fun. It was extra fun for me because my husband created “iCarly” and he created spaghetti tacos as a joke on a whim one day in one episode, and then he kept writing them into the show and they became a thing.
Yes, there was even a New York Times article about them!
We were like freaking out, like “Oh my god, the New York Times is writing an article on spaghetti tacos.” So I made guilt-free spaghetti tacos and that was the first time my husband ever ate them. But they’re amazing. They’re really, really good. And Miranda was the best guest. She was fantastic. We had a lot of fun.
What do you guys talk about? Is she a big cook?
Well, no. She’s so fun, so she was being silly in the kitchen. She was talking about how she doesn’t really cook very often but she liked it. And then we had a “crunch-off,” where she had to guess certain crunchy foods. I had her eyes closed and she had to identify some crunchy food, because the episode is “Crispy Crunchy.”
How did she do?
She did OK. She was really way off on one of the foods, and I made fun of her for it. But she’s the nicest, greatest kid. We had a good time.
Did you always envision a TV show as part of the Hungry Girl brand?
It was very far in the back of my mind because I never really thought of myself as someone that could do a show or have a show. Early on, I was scared to think about it because I wanted to build a brand and I did not want the brand to have any failures under its belt before it was established. So, I kind of wrote it off until the brand became much larger, and then after I had so many subscribers and all these books, I was rethinking the idea of a show. But it always kind of scared me, so I wasn’t focusing on it. Even after I did the deal to do the show, I was terrified.
How did you overcome those fears?
I like to face my fears. I used to have a terrible fear of public speaking as well, and my first book signing, when there were 330 people there in New York, I almost had a heart attack. I was terrified. But I feel like once you do that and you face your fears, you just overcome them. Now I love it. I love my book signings, I love doing TV. You just force yourself to do it and you feel that much better when you do it. If you live your life and you’re afraid of things, and you avoid them, then you don’t grow. So it’s good to tackle your fears.
How does it feel to move to the Food Network?
I’m excited about that as well. It’s still surreal to turn on the TV and see Rachael Ray’s show and then my show and then Guy — it’s bizarre for me. That’s just weird, because I love those guys. I watch Food Network all the time. It is on 24/7 and I’m always TIVO-ing it. That’s what I watch when I’m on the treadmill exercising.
Totally. First of all, I will watch “Throwdown” all the time and I watch “The Best Thing I Ever Ate,” and then it inspires me to make guilt-free versions. So I get a lot of ideas from the network too.
I was going to ask where your ideas come from because they are always so current and on trend.
Well, right, because a lot of times I’ll just be driving by Carl’s Jr. And one time, I drove by and I saw that they had this big, Cap’n Crunch shake sign in the window, and I’m like “What the?” I was like, “Who on earth is making up a shake out of Cap’n Crunch and ice cream?” It had, like 900 calories. And then sure enough that day at the Hungry Girl headquarters, I was recreating it, and I think it has like 140 calories. Fast food, commercials, TV shows, and from subscribers and just things that I see on menus — that’s where all the inspiration comes from.
I think one of the reasons people connect with you so much is because you come across as so bubbly and fun. Is that your personality?
I am a very excited and excitable person. Anyone who knows me, if you haven’t talked to me in 10 or 15 years, they say that if they read the daily emails they feel like they’re talking to me. And then couple that with my background: Right out of college, I was editing teen magazines. I was writing about teen stars, and pop stars, and I think the writing style was conversational and excited, and when I launched Hungry Girl, I wanted it to be the same thing. I wanted it to feel very fun and excited and passionate and not take itself seriously, and be funny and goofy. Because that is truly how I am. And I do get that excited over little silly things.
Is it hard to convey that on TV?
That is the biggest challenge. I think that it is actually a big challenge to convey the same passion, the same personality, to TV. But again, I just try to be myself. I think the hardest thing to do is – believe it or not – be yourself on TV. And so that was the biggest struggle that I had with doing the show. Like, how do I look like I’m a person that’s on TV and that I know what I’m doing, and then just still be as goofy and having fun as I am in my real life?
And how do you do it?
I don’t know! I don’t know that I do do it. I just literally try to pretend that the camera is a friend and that everyone there in the studio are just people that I’m giving information to. That’s the one thing about the show. I think there’s always a lot of information. I feel like I’m an encyclopedia of weird food knowledge, about guilt-free food, and I try to put as much information into the shows as I can.
What are some of your recipes that have given you the biggest challenge to do on air?
It’s funny because when they’re too long, we find shortcuts. That’s the magic of television and cooking shows. Anything that has to look beautiful, I always like to practice a lot beforehand because I want to make it really look beautiful. But I don’t think there’s one recipe that stands out. I’ve had no disasters — knock on wood — yet in the kitchen. I hear stories about people, their ovens catching on fire — that has not yet happened. I think maybe one of the biggest challenges was I had to do an egg flip in season one. I was panicking about that because I wanted to do a real flip, because I was making an egg pizza, so I practiced the day before, flipping eggs in a pan. And I did it.
Follow Meredith Engel on Twitter @MeredithatMetro.