Utah’s ‘Modern Mom’ Holly Burrell shares journey of food and picky eaters

First Published      Last Updated May 06 2015 03:45 pm

Holly Burrell » Modern mom shares journey from the stage to the world of food — and picky eaters.

Dinner at the Burrell house could inspire a television comedy script.

Modern mother Holly Brown Burrell spends several hours each week planning, shopping and preparing healthy meals for her family, only to have her two young daughters crinkle their noses and pick at the food on their plates.

"I get cocky and put what I think is a beautiful meal on the table and then the girls won't touch it. It's humbling," said Burrell, a Utah native and professionally trained chef who also happens to be the wife of Ty Burrell, the actor who plays the quirky dad on ABC's popular sitcom "Modern Family."

Holly Burrell understands that daughters Greta, 5, and Frances, 3, are still exploring tastes and flavors. But she can't help but think there's karma at work.

"I was a picky eater as a kid and into adulthood," Burrell, 39, admitted. "I didn't start trying new and interesting things until I was in my late 20s."

A Davis High graduate who earned a theater degree from the University of Utah, Burrell said her "slow journey toward food" began after meeting Ty Burrell at the Shakespeare Theatre in Washington, D.C. They were performing "Twelfth Night"; she was an understudy for Olivia and he was Antonio.

"He is someone who will try anything and loves food," said Holly Burrell. After they were married, she felt bad about being "so uninteresting to go out to eat with. I decided it was something I could change.

"Food is now a primary thing in my life and my family life. It's something I spent a lot of time and energy thinking about and reading about."

The Burrells' love of food made them an obvious choice to judge this year's Savory Salt Lake fundraiser for KUER. "It combines everything we love," said Burrell of the May 22 event, which will feature the best bites from some of the area's most popular restaurants.

No doubt it was the Burrells that made this a sold-out event.

Early in their acting careers, the Burrells lived in New York City, auditioning for parts and working various jobs to pay the bills.

"After a couple years, I decided I probably was not cut out for the business," Holly Burrell said. With the rigorous hours and competition, "you have to really want to do it and I just didn't have the thing you need. I was interested in other things."

One of those outside interests had become food. Burrell attended and graduated from the intensive nine-month pastry program at the French Culinary Institute. Afterward, she worked a few months in a bakery.

Then her husband was cast as Phil Dunphy on "Modern Family" and the couple moved to Los Angeles, where the show is filmed. Not long after, they adopted Frances, and any thoughts of a culinary career were put on the back burner.

Of all the characters on the Emmy-winning "Modern Family," Holly Burrell said she identifies most with Phil's wife, Claire, played by Julie Bowen. "I hope I'm not as high-strung as Claire," she said. "But I probably am."

Today, the Burrells spend about half the year in Los Angeles and the other half in Salt Lake City. Living in Utah was not her idea.

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Baked risotto with spring vegetables

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

2 cups mushrooms — any kind — sliced if large

2 cups asparagus, chopped into 1-inch pieces

2 shallots, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ cup white wine

3 cups vegetable broth

1 cup arborio rice

1 cup English peas (have the kids shell the peas!)

1 cup fresh spinach, roughly chopped

Parmesan cheese

Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat oven to 425 degrees. In an oven-proof pot with tight-fitting lid (Le Creuset works great), melt 2 tablespoons butter over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and sauté until mushrooms are softened. Add chopped asparagus and sauté for two more minutes. Transfer the mushrooms and asparagus to a small bowl.

Add remaining butter to the pot and sauté the shallot, stirring frequently until softened, about 3 minutes. Add about ½ teaspoon of salt, ¼ teaspoon of pepper and garlic and sauté for an additional minute, until garlic is fragrant. Add the wine and cook, scraping the bottom of the pot, until the wine is almost evaporated. Stir in the broth and rice. Bring everything to a boil, then cover the pot and transfer to oven. Cook for 20-25 minutes.

When you remove the pot from the oven, there may be a ½ inch of liquid on the surface — it will get absorbed by the rice as you stir in the remaining ingredients. Stir in peas, spinach, ½ cup parmesan cheese, mushrooms and asparagus. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper. Serve with additional parmesan cheese.

Note: This recipe is extremely versatile. Mix up the veggies according to what’s in season. It’s also a great gluten-free option and can be done dairy-free with the elimination of the butter and cheese, using extra-virgin olive oil instead.

Servings » 4 to 6

Source: Holly Burrell