Access Hollywood co-host and The Today Show West Coast anchor Natalie Morales moved to Los Angeles in late 2016. After spending 10 years in New York City at Today, Morales welcomed the move to California, as the daily news grind hit her hard. Now, Morales loves hiking with her husband and two boys and exploring her new surroundings. She’ll also be appearing at the LA Times Festival of Books this spring, promoting her new cookbook At Home with Natalie, a collection of recipes revolving around her family traditions. Morales’ cooking demo will be Saturday April 21 from 11 a.m. to 12 noon.
Here, Morales shares what inspired her to put together a cookbook for the first time, some of her favorite recipes, and her thoughts on Today.
Tell us about your new cookbook! What inspired you to put together a cookbook as your first book? Did your family have any say in what went into it?
NATALIE MORALES: The inspiration really came from my family. For me, when I get home from work, my relaxation is getting to be in the kitchen and experimenting with foods. I did want to write a book and was thinking about what I should do. My kids were like, “Mom you love to cook! Why don’t you write what you know?” I was like well that’s what most people do, that makes sense! Most people don’t know that part of me, they don’t know that I love to cook. They see me as a journalist traveling the world for The Today Show and now for Access. I think there’s this idea of who I am and they didn’t see this other side of me. I wanted to put another side of me out there. Cooking is what I grew up with. We’re a big Latin family. Our festivities and any tradition revolved around cooking in the kitchen with my mom and two sisters. That’s how I was inspired to cook in the kitchen and preserve some of that legacy. I wanted to also encourage people because we’re all so busy. If I can do it in the limited time I have, I feel like we can take a little bit of time and it’s more about sitting at the table and inspiring our kids to sit down and talk to you. That was the true intent, to get people to sit down as a family through food.
Tell us about one of your favorite recipes—a little background or history perhaps?
NM: Every recipe in the book has a little bit of me or a little bit of family history to it. There’s a heavy Latin influence because I’m Puerto Rican and Brazilian. There are a lot of recipes from my Brazilian heritage, like black beans and rice to a fish stew to ropa vieja, a recipe with pulled beef that I make in a slow cooker with a lot of vegetables like peppers and onions. It’s so easy, I literally just put a flank steak in there with all the seasonings and vegetables and let it cook on low for three to four hours, add some beer, that’s the secret sauce and next thing you know you have the perfect pulled flank steak. It’s a great meal with rice and beans. I love it the day or two after, it always seems to taste even better because the meat has been able to soak in the sauce. It makes for great sandwiches or burritos. I also lived in Spain during my formative years from 12 to 17, so there’s everything from tortillas Española to gazpacho to my chicken paella. Traveling to Greece, I included a lot of Mediterranean recipes in there. It really runs the gamut. I hope this encourages people to try and cook different foods they wouldn’t otherwise have known.
If you had to cook one of your recipes from your book on The Today Show, which one would it be?
NM: When the book launches in April, I’ll be there for a cooking demo on the 16th. That’s a tough one because there’s 125 recipes in the book so it was hard to pick the perfect one. I think they wanted me to do ropa vieja but they’re still looking through the book and going through what they think viewers will want to see. An easy one I was thinking was gazpacho because it’s a no-cook. It’s just a blender and that’s all you need.
What’s life been like on the West Coast for you since your move? What’s surprised you the most about LA life compared to New York City?
NM: I love LA living! I think I was a California girl all along and just didn’t know it until I got here. Somebody once said to me when I mentioned I was moving to California, they thought I was from there. I’ve actually never lived there. I’ve lived all over the world. As a little kid, people used to ask me where I was born. I was born in Taiwan but for whatever reason, I used to say California. For whatever reason, I just wanted to be the girl from California. It fits my lifestyle so well. We are outdoorsy people. We were just in Mammoth for the first time with our kids. What’s so surprising about California, and about this area in particular. Living in LA, everyone says you can surf and ski in the same day. That’s what’s incredible, driving through the different climates you go through. It’s absolutely stunning. Being a hiker, I didn’t realize it’s a mecca for hiking here. We always try to find a new hike and have been so surprised with the beautiful hikes all around us.
Since transitioning to Access Hollywood, who has been one of your most interesting or surprising interviews?
NM: To me, the people who are the most down-to-earth are sometimes the biggest stars. I interviewed Morgan Freeman—I’ll never forget at one Golden Globes it was pouring rain and I was drenched. He took his handkerchief out of his pocket and started wiping my arm. I was like “Oh my gosh Morgan Freeman is wiping the rain off of me, that’s unbelievable!” More recently it was with Allison Janney, who’s the nicest person in the whole world and so incredibly talented. It was her first Oscars, just savoring every moment with her you feel the joy. I think when people are not jaded by the business and instead appreciate what their gifts have allowed them to achieve. To me, it’s seeing someone reach the height of success and being so grateful for it. Those are the people I always love to interview because too often in this business, unfortunately people do get jaded. There’s a lot of negative stuff and cynicism out there. It’s nice to see the people who embrace the moment and are enjoying the ride.
Were you excited about Hoda Kotb’s new appointment on The Today Show?
NM: It couldn’t have happened to a more deserving person. She’s been sort of the glue of our team for a long time. It just felt like it was perfect, she’d been filling in for so long. It’s nice to see two women at that table. I don’t know why it took us so long for us to realize it didn’t need to be that male-female dynamic all the time. I think being on a show like Access where it’s two women, and also Hoda and Kathie Lee, you see there’s a sisterhood. The Today Show is predominantly viewed by women, especially after a certain hour. It just makes sense.
Your sons are getting older now. How do you hope the world will change for them as they become adults?
NM: We’ve had a lot of conversations, especially with my oldest now being 14. I think fortunately they’ve grown seeing me being an equal partner in the family. They’ve seen that when you have a happy home life it’s about an equal partnership all the way around. I’m blessed that I have that because not every family is so lucky. We’ve had those conversations especially with Josh at 14, seeing the #MeToo movement and the voices of so many women coming forward. You have to really make sure what your children understand what consent is, whether you want to just hold hands or even go for a kiss, you have to ask. He gets all embarrassed of course and says “Mom I’m not there yet!” I always say think about how your mom would react if she was in the room. I’m always telling him, “Make me proud!”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
NM: We just had Maria Shriver on with her book. A lot of what she writes about is so true, about how success in life comes with happiness. Too often we judge our successes on material things or am I getting to that certain job position. When I moved from New York to LA, a lot of people questioned my decision for coming to Access even though I’m still with the Today Show as a West Coast-based anchor. A lot of people thought I was leaving the show. I’m just choosing to have a life that’s less intense and less dealing with the news of the day. I was one of those unfortunately, every school shooting I was out on the field doing interviews and after a while it takes its toll. Having been at the pinnacle of my career at The Today Show, and people saying wow you got the top job, but sometimes it’s also realizing you may need to take a step back if it’s best for you and your family. I knew that maybe I wasn’t cut out for doing day after day of shootings or more tragic news. I needed something that filled my bucket with more happiness. Getting out of that daily news grind has allowed me to reflect more and explore more and make life more fulfilling in other ways.
What’s next for you?
NM: I’ve got the LA Book Festival coming up, which I’ve never done so I’m excited. The book tour comes up in April. It’s scary and a bit daunting but I’m excited. It’s taken me five years to get this book from the time I started thinking about it to putting the recipes together, it was a long ordeal. It was like delivering 10 babies in five years. Fortunately, I’m so blessed that I have Access and The Today Show, I’m constantly in demand. I’m trying to do other projects as well.