What It Means to Be American
A National Conversation


Writer and Broadcaster Loyd Grossman

I Thank the U.K. for Shepherd’s Pie

June 9, 2016

Loyd Grossman is a writer, broadcaster, and entrepreneur. He was born in Boston and educated in the U.S. and in England. In the U.K., he’s well-known as the first host of the TV cooking show MasterChef, and was given the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2015. Before participating in a Zócalo/Smithsonian “What It Means to Be American” panel in London on whether America is still a British colony, Grossman visited the green room to discuss Cuban music, the beauty of old American furniture, and how not to procrastinate at work.

Q: I read that your father was an antiques dealer in Marblehead, Massachusetts. What was the strangest thing that he tried to sell?

A: There wasn’t much very strange at all. He dealt with only a handful of clients and mostly museums. His thing was 18th-century American furniture, from mostly coastal Boston and Newport, and 18th- and 19th-century American art. Chairs, chests of drawers, paintings. Stuff you now see in the American wing of museums—what you’d see in Winterthur. He had very good taste.

Q: What is your favorite English meal?

A: Growing up in New England we had a kind of traditional New England diet that was quasi-English. We ate things like shepherd’s pie and fish cakes and cabbage. I kind of like that comfort food. It’s hard to beat. When you’re living on a gray, cold island in winter, you really like having shepherd’s pie.

Q: What are you reading right now?

A: I just finished a biography of [the artist] Bernini and I’m just in the midst of reading David Cesarani’s thing on the Holocaust called Final Solution.

Q: How do you procrastinate?

A: I don’t. There’s always stuff to do and I’d rather just do it than not do it. I love what I do so I don’t want to put it off. If you had a fabulous plate of food put in front of you, would you say, “No, I’ll wait an hour”? No, you’d want it now.

Q: What music do you like to dance to?

A: Like everyone else of my age in the world, old Rolling Stones. Because I spent time in Miami as kid, I also love Cuban music.

Q: Who’s one person, living or dead, you’d most like to have a beer with?

A: Jimmy Page [of Led Zeppelin] amongst the living. And probably [writer] George Eliot, amongst the dead. I can’t imagine George Eliot drinking beer. It would be funny to see that.

Q: If you could only take one more journey, where would you go?

A: I would say either Italy or India, because they’re my favorite countries to visit.

Q: What does it mean to be American?

A: That’s a question I hope to answer at the end of tonight’s event. I don’t really know. Every time you think you grasp what it means to be American, something comes up and knocks you off balance. Traditionally, one was always taught that what makes people American really is an unshakable commitment to the value of democracy. I still think belief in democracy is a core value, but whether it’s a core value that can withstand the shocks of modern world is an open question.

*Photo by Ed Telling.