If you thought “Lessons in Chemistry” was about nothing more than beakers and bonds, think again. The bestselling novel turned Apple TV+ miniseries, which premiers on Oct. 13, centers around Elizabeth Zott (played by Brie Larson), a lab technician and single mother, who finds herself the reluctant host of a popular cooking show, “Supper at Six.”
Courtney McBroom, who worked as the food consultant on the show, says that despite the fact that the series is set in the 1950s and ’60s, the food needed to be a bit more modern — much like Elizabeth herself.
“I had a discussion early on with the writers and we said, ‘Listen, Elizabeth Zott is a woman of her time. She’s a woman of the ’50s. But she’s also very much a woman ahead of her time. And so we want to make sure we see that in the food that she makes as well,’” McBroom tells TODAY.com in an exclusive interview.
Although 1950s cuisine likely evokes images of Jell-O molds and casseroles, you won’t see many of those midcentury dishes in the show. “That didn’t seem that didn’t seem like Elizabeth Zott to me,” says McBroom. Instead, classic recipes such as roast chicken, lasagna, blackberry pie, lunchbox brownies and vegetable galette transcend decades and were “made from scratch using only the freshest ingredients,” she adds.
Elizabeth approaches cooking with a keen eye — and so does McBroom, who turned to her vast collection of vintage cookbooks, as well as her own knowledge from years working as a professional chef, for inspiration. She collaborated with the writers, producers and directors to determine what the food would be and how they wanted it to look. She then wrote the recipes and worked with a team of food stylists to make everything come alive on screen.
“It wasn’t a one-woman show — I had a lot of support from a lot of incredibly talented people,” she emphasizes.
Larson, whom McBroom calls “a great cook,” was just as excited to flip through the pages of old cookbooks as she prepared for the lead role. But McBroom says that pretending to be a groundbreaking cooking host came naturally to the Academy Award-winning actor.
“She cooks all the time. And anything that she wasn’t sure about, she’s a very quick learner. I’d go and prep her before a scene and be like, ‘OK, do this and this in that order’ and then she’d remember it and do it exactly in that way,” says McBroom.
Compared to Julia Child, a more well-known and real-life cooking host from the same era, Elizabeth is far less eccentric. Yet both were culinary pioneers and inspired an entire generation of home cooks to be brave in the kitchen.
“I feel like I know Elizabeth Zott very well. I only know Julia Child from who she was on her show, but I think there’s a lot of similarities. They were both fearless in the kitchen,” says McBroom.
As a playful nod to “The French Chef” herself, there’s a scene in which Elizabeth demonstrates how to make bananas Foster flambé while explaining the rules of combustion.
“I don’t know if you’ve seen the classic photo of (Julia) when she did a flambé and there’s two people working the production, like hiding behind the counter with fire extinguishers. That was a direct pull from Julia Child and an homage to her. It’s so cute. I love it so much,” says McBroom.
Elizabeth’s approach as a host on “Supper at Six” is intentionally unique. While wearing a white lab coat, she reminds her viewers that “cooking is chemistry, and chemistry is life.” She views cooking not just as a means of getting a meal on the table, but as an experiment worth perfecting — and that’s a lesson that home cooks today should stew over. She empowers women to take care of themselves just as much as they do their loved ones. And on some nights, self-care might just mean taking a few shortcuts.
“Cooking can be whatever you want it to be in this show — you can be a home cook, you can be a cook in a restaurant, you can be a cook on a famous TV show or you can order takeout,” says McBroom.