Smith College Admission Academics Student Life About Smith news Offices
Five College Calendar
Smith eDigest
Submit an Idea
News Archive
News Publications
Planning an Event
Contact Us
News & Events

Q & A with Devin Alexander ’93

Playing in the Kitchen

Devin Alexander ’93 (who was named Renee Simone while at Smith) is busy these days. Alexander, who lives in Los Angeles, is the owner and executive chef of Café Reneucutee Catering, which specializes in lower-fat, high-flavor cuisine. She’s written two cookbooks: Fast Food Fix, which offers recipes for healthier fast food dishes, and The Biggest Loser Cookbook, a New York Times bestseller that accompanied the hit television show The Biggest Loser. She has written more than 200 magazine articles and has served as culinary adviser and food editor for several magazines. And every Thursday, Alexander concocts scrumptious-but-healthy recipes of traditionally unhealthy favorites as the host of Healthy Decadence with Devin Alexander, a Discovery Health network television cooking show (airs at 10:30 p.m.).

Alexander, a theater major at Smith who has waged her own battles against excessive weight, recently responded to questions for The Gate about her busy life, and her Smith experience.

The Gate: How did you go from majoring in theater at Smith to a culinary career? Had you always had interest in culinary arts, or did it develop after you left Smith?

Devin Alexander: I was recruited by the Television Academy (the Emmy folks) right from Smith for a sitcom I’d written and produced at Smith called Not All Pearls. When I got to LA a number of industry insiders figured out that I could cook great tasting food that was actually healthy and they wanted to hire me to cook for them. I resisted at first, but when my internship ended, I thought it would be a good idea to go to culinary school so I could land a job as a celebrity private chef and get free room and board in a celebrity’s guest house while my writing career took off. But I ended up falling into owning a catering business that took off very quickly, so I never even finished a script. 

Gate: How do you manage to balance your time between writing books, hosting your show, and other activities?

DA: It’s not easy some days, but I’m lucky enough to have two great assistants, an amazing manager and lawyer, and most recently, a stellar publicist as part of “Team Devin,” as we jokingly call ourselves. I could use a bit more of a social life, but I get wrapped up in my work because I love it so much and am lucky enough to get letters from people daily telling me how my recipes are affecting them. Nothing in the world beats that feeling. 

Gate: Can you briefly describe your own battles against excessive weight?

DA: I started dieting around age 8 and kept getting fatter and fatter until I was 15. I was never able to follow a diet because the notion of giving up my favorite foods FOR-EV-ER was too much to handle. Finally, I heard that if you cut just 100 calories from your diet per day, you can loose (on average) 10 pounds in a year. It became a competitive game for me to cut 100, 200 or even 300 calories per day and I lost weight pretty quickly. It was hard to eat healthy all of the time at Smith because there were so many talented pastry chefs making us Friday teas and such amazing breads and things (I am hopeless around that stuff to this day) and because there weren’t as many choices there, even for entrees, as I’d love, but I was actually losing by my years at Smith. I would make dinner for myself and a number of girls on my hall when the food was fattening in the dining room. 

Gate: What about your Smith experience has informed your current roles as chef, businesswoman, and television host?

DA: Tons, actually…and my catering business boomed because of a Smith alum, Hollis Brookover ’82, who just started hiring me to help her and then promoted the heck out of me. Len Berkman [Anne Hesseltine Hoyt Professor of Theatre] was my adviser at Smith and he was hugely influential in encouraging me to follow my passion for and enthusiasm surrounding Hollywood. He encouraged me to design my own course my senior year to produce my sitcom since the college wouldn’t give me credit for a television production class I wanted to take at Hampshire (it was said to be too specialized for the liberal arts education). In retrospect that was the best thing that could have happened because the sitcom was my entrée into the TV Academy. Also, when I started at Smith, I was very shy and insecure—having spent my formative years being picked on for being overweight, I didn’t feel like I fit in and I certainly didn’t feel attractive enough to be on TV. By my senior year, I was hosting a show on Continental Cablevision in Northampton and producing and directing my own sitcom. Also, my first year, there was a senior, Carla Manske ’90, who grew up in my home town. She used to drive me to and from Smith over breaks. She told me very early on that when you’re at Smith, you had to walk looking up—she was taught to be proud of who she was and what she had to contribute; looking down when you walk suggests a lack of self-worth. I remember that being a very poignant moment for me that I immediately took to heart…I’m still a bit shy at heart at times and that still pops in to my head every once in a while.

Gate: What is the foremost message you would like viewers of Healthy Decadence to come away with?

DA: Healthy food can taste great! The media, for the most part, reinforces that “we just want fat” and it’s a travesty that our children are getting fatter and fatter. With a bit of time in the kitchen, it’s easy to eat “cool food” and love every bite of it!

Gate: What advice can you offer Smithies about how to achieve at such a high level, as you obviously are?

DA: Wow, that’s a really flattering question!...I would say that the best thing someone could do is to follow her passion. I work hard, but I’ve also gotten really lucky ever since I embraced what I’m good at. I left Smith thinking I would be a sitcom writer, which is kind of silly because I’m really not all that funny. I resisted cooking even though it’s the one thing I was always good at from a young age because I thought that I would gain my weight back if I were around food all day. But I think that I have had success in recent years because people believe what I say…and only because I believe every word of it. I truly believe that the fudge mint brownies that I make that have only 112 calories and 1 gram of fat are as good as any full fat ones you could possibly buy (they are!). I believe that healthy food can taste great. And I believe that kids should get to eat fun food like chicken tenders and they should and can be healthy. The most integral part of my career these days is “playing in my kitchen” trying to tweak food until it tastes great. I work with three 20-something-year-old women in my condo and have a blast doing it. And the fact that we all love it gets other people excited about it and gets me hired whether it’s to be on TV or to speak at spas or even to buy my books. At the end of the day, I wouldn’t be doing anything else in the world…not many people realize that getting to that place takes time and hard work, but is totally worth it. But as Nike would say: “Just Do It”…whatever it is. Nothing is impossible—I mean, I was the fat girl sitting on the sofa watching Dallas and baking cookies on Friday nights when the other kids in my high school were at the dances. Now I’m a size 6 and I’m helping girls (and others) who write and say that my story is their story. It’s worth every minute in my kitchen and every door that was ever slammed in my face. And it’s all because I had a lot of people throughout my life telling me that I could achieve anything I dreamed…and I believed it.    


6/11/07   Compiled by Eric Sean Weld
DirectoryCalendarCampus MapVirtual TourContact UsSite A-Z