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Arkansas woman covers it all on cooking radio program

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Mary Twedt is hungry.

"I can cook; I'm not a chef," Twedt says. "I enjoy eating a good meal."

Twedt, 51, is the host of Arkansas Cooks, a weekly program on public radio station KUAR-FM, 89.1, in Little Rock. Her topics have as wide a range as her palate, and she prides herself on her show and her taste.

"What I'm really surprised by is how people enjoy listening to people cook on the radio," Twedt said. "I think people enjoy it ... it gets good feedback."

Twedt, of Little Rock, began hosting the show in October 2002. While driving through Tennessee, she and her husband scanned across a National Public Radio show on cooking called The Splendid Table. Twedt said she was intrigued by the show, and was convinced she could provide a more light-hearted and personable feel to a similar show. She approached KUAR with the concept, but the station wasn't initially sold on the idea.

"It didn't seem doable," KUAR news and program director Ron Breeding recalled. "It's not the kind of cooking show you'd imagine on the Food Network or TV."

Breeding and KUAR general manager Ben Fry asked for 13 shows that year. Twedt gave them 43. Since then, Twedt has provided about 35 half-hour shows each year, and Arkansas Cooks has become one of the station's most popular programs.

"This is a natural thing for her," Breeding said. "The listeners enjoy it. She asks the questions that they would if they got to visit the kitchen of their favorite restaurant."

The weekly segment offers insight into recipes, restaurant reviews and interviews with local chefs and restaurant owners. Twedt said that the interviews and getting to know her guests are essential to her show.

"Genuine curiosity in who they are, what they do, how they got where they are," Twedt said. "I think people are interested in that."

"I try to feature people as if you just walked into their restaurant," she added. "The restaurant business is hard, so you have to love it."

Twedt noted it helps to have an audience in tune with local eateries. Namedropping a choice selection of longtime establishments in central Arkansas, Twedt said there is a "strong history" of local connection to homegrown restaurants.

"People in Arkansas typically love to eat and love to go out," Twedt said. "I love the places that are really small. ... It feels like you're in someone's home."

But when Twedt scans the kitchen in her own home, she notes there are some things she simply can't do without.

Gas stove, check.

Immersion blender, check.

A good knife, check. Fresh ingredients, check. And of course, her cookbook and recipe stash. Twedt said she learned how to cook from her family while growing up and later worked in several restaurants. "This is not a job I do to get paid for. I mean, it's public radio," Twedt said. "It's my creative outlet."

It doesn't hurt to have taste buds as well traveled as hers either.

Twedt recently returned to Little Rock after traveling to India to work with University of Hyderabad and University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences' joint educational and research programs.

She added that her travels have also taken her to the Middle East, Europe and several states.

"There's not a lot of ethnic food I don't enjoy," Twedt said. "When I visit a place, I don't ever want to go to a chain. It's like a rule my husband and I have when we go out of town."

When asked if she'd consider incorporating Indian flavor into any of her dishes, Twedt tapered her enthusiasm.

"Oh no," Twedt said, laughing.

That doesn't mean she takes her food bland. Anything but.

Twedt says a memorable taste is one of the most important things she looks for when she sits in a new restaurant.

"I love it when you go to a restaurant and they're not afraid to use spice," Twedt said. "I really admire chefs that blend things together to create a new taste."

"When you taste their food, you remember it," she added.

Twedt noted that she is approaching the 10th year of her show. She said she'd like to do a live show. Until then, you can bet she'll keep her reservations every Saturday at noon on KUAR.

You can also bet she'll be adding to that recipe collection.

"Simpler is better," Twedt said. "That way I can remember it."

Online:

http://www.kuar.org/arkansascooks.html


Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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