It’s not just her three graduate degrees that set Dr. Wendy Osefo apart on The Real Housewives of Potomac. It’s also that she loves to cook. She says her castmates see her as “the only person on this entire show who feeds her guests real food.” That deep care around food comes from her mother, who would bring gourmet meals to the cafeteria in Wendy’s elementary school and cook up Nigerian delicacies regularly. But, Wendy says, her mom also used food as a way to exert influence and control at home. Wendy talks with Dan about her new memoir, Tears of My Mother, and how she’s using food with her kids differently than her mom did with her.
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The Sporkful production team includes Dan Pashman, Emma Morgenstern, Andres O'Hara, Tracey Samuelson, and Jared O'Connell, with editing help this week from John DeLore and Devon DiComo.
Interstitial music in this episode by Black Label Music:
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Photo courtesy of Miguel Djontu.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Oh, I'm absolutely obsessed with food. I've been married for 11 years and food is my husband's peace offering. Like other women like diamonds, other women, like, you know, flowers — no, keep that crap. I want food.
Dan Pashman: So if your husband knows that he screwed up. he makes up to you with food.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Absolutely, a thousand percent. Like yesterday was my pub day for my book and it was all centered around food. He had to bust a U-turn on the freeway, go the opposite way to buy one of my favorite Nigerian delicacies from this restaurant. It's yam porridge. So it's like a yam, but then it's boiled with palm oil, so it turns orange at the end. It has crayfish. It has lots of spices and seasonings. And then it has, what we call, assorted meat. And he came home like you would have thought he won the N.B.A. Championship. Like he had the smile on his face, like I know. Like this is it. And he just handed it to me and I was like, "[GASPS] Oh my God, you love me!", and it was so good.
Dan Pashman: This is The Sporkful, it's not for foodies it's for eaters, I'm Dan Pashman. Each week on our show we obsess about food to learn more about people.
Dan Pashman: Hey, before we get to the show, we are taping a show with Claire Saffitz, the internet’s most lovable baking star. She’s going to take your questions about cooking and baking just in time for the holidays. So if you have one, please write to me or send me a voice memo, with your name and your location, at email@example.com. Again, tell me you your first name, your location, and your question. That’s firstname.lastname@example.org — we might just include your question or your voice memo in our conversation with Claire. Thanks!
Dan Pashman: All right, onto the show. This week I’m talking with Dr. Wendy Osefo. She’s a professor, political commentator, and one of the Real Housewives of Potomac.
[INTRO CLIP FOR THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF POTOMAC]
CLIP (DR. WENDY OSEFO): This professor doesn’t just grade on the curve, she sets the curve.
Dan Pashman: Wendy is the first Nigerian-American cast member on any of the Real Housewives shows. And she’s just written a memoir, called Tears of My Mother. When you hear her story, it seems like every important moment of her life is punctuated by food — including how she got her name. Wendy's parents are from Nigeria. They lived in the U.S. before Wendy was born.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: They came here to attend medical school, but in the interim, they had to work odd jobs. And one of those jobs was at a fast food restaurant. And that was the first time that my dad was able to work up the chain. So he went from a cook to this, to cashier, and then one day he became manager. And having the ability to call himself a manager was like a testament to the "American dream" and to thank this country for giving him the ability to be a manager and have a piece of the American pie, he named his daughter after that restaurant that gave him that opportunity. Wendy! [LAUGHS]
Dan Pashman: Well, at least they didn't name you Burger King.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Listen, if I was named Popeye's, I would be pissed.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Pissed.
Dan Pashman: When Wendy was two-years-old, her parents split up. Her mother, Susan Okuzu, took Wendy and her older sister and settled in Durham, North Carolina. Wendy says her mom filled their home with high expectations, intense love, and delicious food.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: My mom's house was like the gathering spot. She has eight other siblings. So, whether she was cooking for us or cooking for her guest or cooking for her brothers — everything, the focal point was the kitchen.
Dan Pashman: You would sometimes ask to help [Dr. Wendy Osefo: Yeah.] in the kitchen. And what was the response?
Dr. Wendy Osefo: No. I — it's — till today, I don't know how I learned to cook. I never helped my mom in the kitchen, not because I didn't want to, but she never invited that. She never said, hey, come here, let me teach you how to make this, or let me teach you how to make that. In all honesty, I didn’t know the long term ramifications. I mean, I think the first time she said no, I was like, aw, I wanna help, like why are you saying no? But then after a while it just became the norm. But what I realized and what I’ve come to realize is that that is her domain.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: So even though I wasn't her sous chef, I always sat there and I paid attention to conversations, but I also paid attention to what she was doing. So I learned how to cook just from watching.
Dan Pashman: In her memoir, Wendy describes her mom as equal parts love and pain. She could be dismissive of Wendy’s feelings, as she was in the kitchen. But at other times she’d be caring and affectionate, like when she would show up at the school cafeteria …
Dr. Wendy Osefo: You know, you're in this cafeteria with other kids, and of course. you guys are anticipating the horrible, sloppy Joes that are about to ensue. And here goes my mom and all her glory coming in with like a white plastic bag and, my mom would bring me sautéed potato wedges and smothered pork chops and mac and cheese with four different types of cheeses. And I mean, the kids in there would just be salivating cause they're like, wait, I'm stuck with sloppy Joe's and corn dogs.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING]
Dr. Wendy Osefo: You know, what's so funny? I went to back to school night for my kids and the principal was like, parents are welcome at lunch. You just come and sign in. However, we ask that parents don't bring any outside food in fairness to all the other students. And me and my husband look at each other. I'm like, screw you. No, I'm —
Dr. Wendy Osefo: I'm bringing outside food. Like, I'm going to do that.
Dan Pashman: Cut to Wendy with like a buffet cart rolling it into the cafeteria.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Right. Like, this is a rite of passage for kids. Let's stop ruining people's childhood.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING]
Dan Pashman: When Wendy was in middle school, her mom Susan got a job in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Susan didn’t want Wendy and her sister to change schools, so she left the girls with their aunt, who didn't have kids. The worst part? Her aunt was also not a good cook.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: She's the type that she would cook something, you'll take a bite. You'll be like, Mm, this is great. And then as soon as she turns around, you throw it in trash. Like that's how her food was. And I just remember not enjoying eating at all.
Dan Pashman: Did you ever tell your mom that you didn't like the food at your aunt's house?
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Yeah. I told her I didn't like the food and she would cook for us, freeze it in the deep freezer for like five days and then ship it to us. So that was nice, but we ran through that food rather quickly, cause that's all we would eat. And then my aunt, with her non-cooking self, would eat the food too.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dr. Wendy Osefo: And I'm like, lady, your food sucks. We're getting food shipped to us. You eat your sucky food. Let's eat mom's food. But you know, it just didn't work out. Needless to say, we were only at my aunts for like a few months and then my mom came and got us.
Dan Pashman: With the three of them back together, Wendy's mom decided to take them to Nigeria for a visit. Wendy was 12. This was the first time she'd be in Nigeria and be old enough to really remember it. And of all the things she remembers, food is at the top of the list.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: You had suya. It's spiced meat. They sell it on the street, but it's not like street meat. It's like, you know it's from a farm. You know it's fresh meat. And it is so good. They serve it in the newspaper. And then on the side of it is fresh cut onions and fresh cut tomatoes. And just a combination of the fresh cut onions, tomatoes, and the suya, it’s like a freaking disco party in your mouth.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS] Were the onions that came with the suya raw or cooked?
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Raw, and it's only red onions. You don't do white onions. It's red onions.
Dan Pashman: How thick are the onions sliced?
Dr. Wendy Osefo: They're pretty thick, like thick square pieces.
Dan Pashman: And you would just like grab a bite, like a little bit of suya, onion, tomato, get it all in one bite.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Boom. There you go. If you …
Dan Pashman: You get crunch, acidity, sweetness, juice ...
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Oh my God.
Dan Pashman: Fattiness, meat ...
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Oh ...
Dan Pashman: It's all there.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: It's all there on steroids. It's amazing. It's amazing. It's so good.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING]
Dan Pashman: Like many children of immigrants, Wendy says she grew up feeling like she didn’t quite fit in in her parents’ home country, or in America. She was exposed to the range of cultural influences that come with growing up in the U.S., but she describes her upbringing as distinctly Nigerian, which she says includes an expectation of excellence.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: We — I'm laughing at it because it's so crazy, it's funny. You can't come second place. Like you will come home and you will say, "Mom, I got a B.", like, you're excited because quite frankly, you struggle to get this B. The first question your parent will say is, “Did someone get an A?”, and you're like, “Yeah.” Follow up is, "So why didn't you get A?" We do not accept second best. Everything, we have to be the best at it. That's with your career. That's with relationships. It's with absolutely everything you do. Mediocrity is not accepted.
Dan Pashman: Wendy also felt pressured by Nigerian cultural expectations for teenage girls.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: The goal of a woman is to be presentable to the point she can marry. And you do not want to defile your body by doing anything that makes you seem wayward.
Dan Pashman: When Wendy was in eighth grade, she rebelled against that idea. Her ears were already pierced, they had been since she was a baby. That was considered okay. But now, she wanted a second piercing in one ear, just above the first. And that would not be okay. She went for it anyway.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: I numbed my ear with a piece of ice and then I pierced my second hole with my own earring. And I thought I could cover it with my hair. And I was in the kitchen and something possessed me to flip my hair. And my mom grabbed my ear as hard as she could. And she was like, “What is this?!” And I was like, "And this is where I die.", like, this is it.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING]
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Like, I'm grounded. I am weeping. She makes me take the earring out of my ear. In all of this, in the backdrop was my grandmother. My grandmother was staying with us. My mom's mother, Angela, and she didn't say a word. While me and my mom were going at it, I hear pots and pans clicking in the background. I don't pay any attention. My mom has to go to work. I'm sobbing, crying, and I plop down on the couch. And then my grandmother brings me a plate. And on the plate is boiled plantain and then palm oil on the side, drizzled on top of it. The palm oil, she seasoned it with salt and very, very hot pepper — as we call it osse. And she gives it to me, wipes my eyes, and she tells me, [IGBO]. And in the Igbo language that translates to, “It's going to be okay.” And in that moment with that food, I felt so much comfort. I felt so at peace and I felt like it's going to be okay.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Until today, whenever something is wrong or the world just feels like it's crashing down, I make that same, very simple dish, boiled plantain, palm oil. And I tell myself, [Igbo], it's gonna be okay.
Dan Pashman: As she grew up, Wendy continued to have moments of defiance. But overall, when it came to the big things, she followed the course that her mother had laid out for her. She married Eddie Osefo, also Nigerian American. Check. When they got married, he was in law school. Check. Wendy, herself, really wanted to be on TV, but she knew that wouldn’t fly as a career path … unless she could get on TV by being an expert at something. So after finishing one masters degree, she got another, and then a Ph.D. in public affairs. She wouldn’t be a doctor or lawyer, but this was good enough to avoid disgracing the family.
Dan Pashman: In the year after Wendy and Eddie got married, they were between jobs and grad schools. They moved into Wendy's mom’s basement for a couple months. So Wendy was living with her mother again, but now she was an adult. She’d done everything right to earn her mom’s respect. She thought maybe this would be when Susan would teach her how to cook. Maybe Wendy could learn by doing, not just watching. But when Wendy would offer to help, her mom still said no. And this time it felt different. It's one thing to say no to a kid who wants to peel vegetables. It's another to refuse to cook with your adult daughter.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: I'm like, goodness gracious. I need to learn, especially now that I'm married. If I don't learn now, when am I going to learn? And it's so funny because she wouldn't let us help, but she would often complain that she didn't get any help in the kitchen. Or she wouldn't let us help. And then she will always say, "Wen, I need to get you and your sister together, and we just need to go to the African market and go grocery shopping. So I could teach you how to pick out, you know, the right yam or what — how to pick out the right types of meats." And I'm like, that would be awesome, but she's never done it. So it's like, she doesn't allow anyone to come into her territory, which is the kitchen, but then she also knows the importance of us being in her territory.
Dan Pashman: Did you resent it at that time?
Dr. Wendy Osefo: I didn't necessarily resent it. I just knew I needed it more now than ever, because I just became a married woman. I yearned for it. I wanted it, but I wasn't like actively resentful because that's how it's always been.
Dan Pashman: You didn't think to question it.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: I didn't think to question it but then when we moved, my mom would come to the house to cook and that was her present. So maybe she never taught me because she didn't want to take away from that's what she does. That's where she exerts her power. That's where she takes pride in doing that because that is her form of love. And so for you to help her in the kitchen takes away that duty. So that's why she was saying no, not because she didn't need the help, but rather because she thought that the laboring of cooking equated to how much she loved you.
Dan Pashman: Right. So it's almost like if she does less of the work, then in her mind, it would mean that she loves you less.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Exactly. It's also because of that cultural piece, meaning in Nigerian culture there's not a lot of affection. So there's not a lot of ways in which love can be shown. My mom always told me she loved me, but that is the biggest departure from how she was raised. I don't think she remembers her mom ever telling her she loved her. Her mom showed her by clothing her, putting her through school, making sure she was okay and praying for her, but it was never said. So with each generation, we unpeel a layer of the ways in which we show emotion and show love.
Dan Pashman: I wonder if there also sort of an element of control with it? Like your mom wanted to do all the work in the kitchen because she felt like this is how I show love.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: But it also kind of provides — it allows her to control part of her relationship with you and to control you in a way that maybe wouldn't, if she ceded some of that power.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Man. Yeah, absolutely. I would agree with that. And I think control is one of the underlying themes of the book, the ways in which control is administered from her vantage point as a mom.
Dan Pashman: Susan’s desire to control the kitchen was even more apparent once Wendy and her husband had their own kids, and especially, when they hired a nanny.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: When my mom saw that the nanny took on some responsibilities of cooking, she saw that as a threat. Because she lost her stronghold of us. Until today, there's a dish that that nanny used to make. My mom makes it till today. I'm like, why are you cooking this, like this — like, what is this?
Dan Pashman: You're mom made it and then the nanny made it. And then your mom mad it again? Or the nanny made it first and then you mom ...
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Yes. that's what makes it so awkward.
Dan Pashman: Oh, she took ...
Dr. Wendy Osefo: She took the nanny's recipe. So the nanny made it ...
Dan Pashman: Ohh.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: My mom ...
Dan Pashman: So the nanny introduced this recipe to my family.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Yes. The nanny introduced this recipe to my family.
Dan Pashman: Okay.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: My family absolutely loved it. My mom came one day, we were eating it and myself and then the kids and my husband were all fawning over this recipe. And my mom was like, what? No, no one’s recipe should be lauded except for mine.
Dan Pashman: Coming up, Wendy becomes a Real Housewife and brings her high Nigerian expectations and food to reality TV. Then later, she and her mom try to hash things out in the kitchen. Stick around.
+++ BREAK +++
Dan Pashman: Welcome back to The Sporkful. I’m Dan Pashman. Last week on the show, I talk with food TV star Nigella Lawson. She explains how her TV persona is partly an exaggeration of herself, but also a product of her discomfort with being on camera. Nigella’s very thoughtful and incisive, I really enjoyed this conversation. It’s up now, check it out.
Dan Pashman: Now back to Wendy Osefo. Today, Wendy is married with three kids, and four degrees. She’s a professor in the school of education at Johns Hopkins University, and a frequent political commentator on cable news, drawing on her expertise in public affairs. Even with all of those commitments, she still blocks off time in her calendar most days to cook dinner for her family. She especially loves making Nigerian food. Her mom Susan might never have given her proper cooking lessons, but Wendy’s been able to pry a lot from her.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Like, I will call her and I will say, “Hey Mom, I'm hungry. I wanna make this, this, and this.” She's like, “Okay, I'll teach you how to make it.” And in my phone, I have like, I use the notes app and I have like all of her recipes and I type it up. But what I've done is I started email accounts for all of my kids. Like the moment they were born and I emailed them the recipe, so they'll always have it. Right? Because what I would hate is for them to be older and not know it. And I never want them to Google how to make jollof rice and they use some recipe for some Canadian who has no idea what the hell jollof rice is.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dr. Wendy Osefo: And they're like, Hm. I wonder if that's how grandma made it? Heck no, that's not how grandma made it. So I just want them to have the authentic recipes of everything.
Dan Pashman: Wendy’s not only sharing these recipes with her kids. In a turn from her mom’s approach, Wendy invites her kids to help in the kitchen. And they make all kinds of food together.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Well, I caved in and I bought an air fryer. I feel like such a, ugh, millennial, But anyway ...
Dr. Wendy Osefo: They love air fried chicken, which is amazing. So I let them pat down the chicken to make sure it's completely dry before I let them season it. And they love to do that. And I put all types of seasonings. And their favorite thing to do is like to mix it all up.
Dan Pashman: Still, in some ways in the kitchen, Wendy’s become a lot like her mom.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: One of my biggest complaints is I always cook. And my husband always says, "But you don't have to," but I do it. I feel like I do it for the same reason my mom did it. I think I do it because it's a symbol of love.
Dan Pashman: Wendy doesn’t like it when she’s too busy to cook and has to rely on takeout, or the nanny, to feed her family.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: I feel guilty whenever I outsource any form of parenting.
Dan Pashman: I cook a lot for my kids, so I can certainly — I hear exactly what you're saying because like — cause I like cooking.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Mm-hmm.
Dan Pashman: Of course, it's a nice feeling when you cook for your family and they all eat the food and like what you cooked. But there are times when you're just burnt out and you don't feel like doing it.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Yeah.
Dan Pashman: And then you're kind of resentful that like, but now it's my job. You know, then it's not — now it's not fun anymore.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Hmm. That's such a good point. And I think for me, because of the type of life I live, I always feel like I'm a contestant on Top Chef and it's the "Quickfire Challenge". There's no meal that takes me more than 45 minutes. It's never relaxing. It's never like — like, I wanna be one of those people that you see in the movies who come in with the groceries — I used to do this when I was younger. I used to go grocery shopping and I used to specifically request paper bags because that's what the movies did. And I wanted to have like a little bit at the top of like my carrots, like sticking out the top a little bit.
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHS]
Dr. Wendy Osefo: And then the loaf for bread and just carry it in. Like, that's what they did in the movies. I've never had the experience of just coming in, dropping my keys, pulling my hair up, unpacking my groceries, pouring a glass of wine, turning on the music, bringing out my chopping board, and now I cut my vegetables. And then after I'm done cutting, I take a sip of wine. Never in the history ...
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Of freaking ever [Dan Pashman: Right.] has that been my experience. It's like, du, du, du. Like, you could put a camera in there and it's like, I'm here. I'm here. I'm here. I'm this. I'm that. I'm dashing that. I taste — like, it's chaos.
Dan Pashman: Maybe someday when we're a lot older, Wendy?
Dr. Wendy Osefo: I hope.
Dan Pashman: Then the kids are out of the house.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: I hope.
Dan Pashman: You know, like I'll call my mom and what are you doing today? Oh, I'm making a stew.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: I wanna make a stew
Dan Pashman: Yeah ...
Dr. Wendy Osefo: I want something to simmer. I want to simmer.
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING]
Dr. Wendy Osefo: I want something to simmer and while it's simmering ...
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: I'm like, "Oh, it's simmering."
Dan Pashman: Right, right. [LAUGHING] You just wanna have time in your life to simmer something,
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Yeah. Yes, I want to simmer something. That's my goal in life.
Dan Pashman: Yeah.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: On my bingo card of life, I want to simmer something.
Dan Pashman: Right. [LAUGHING] I think that goal is within reach, Wendy.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Okay. I hope so.
Dan Pashman: Clearly, Wendy is busy, but for years she felt like all her academic accomplishments weren’t quite getting her where she dreamed of going in the world of entertainment. Then, in 2018, the producers of Real Housewives of Potomac approached her about joining the show — she had a friend who was already in the cast.
Dan Pashman: Now, being a Real housewife is very different from being a professor. Yes, there is drama among professors, like at a cocktail party when one whispers to another, “You know so-and-so’s data is highly suspect.” But when Housewives get together, people flip tables. Wendy said yes anyway.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: So a part of me — I'm a daredevil. Like I'm big — like I'm a thrill seeker. I love roller coasters. And I never want to be 90-years-old in my rocking chair, looking out and saying, “What if?” for anything. And so when the opportunity for Housewives was presented, I said, "Why not?". And when I presented it to my mother, I was like, "Okay, mom, I'm thinking about joining Housewives." My mom said, "Well, if you do it, you go there and you be the best at it."
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dr. Wendy Osefo: I'm like, oh, all right. I didn't know there was a trophy for best housewife, but yeah, Mom!
Dan Pashman: Right. Yeah. I don't think there are rankings.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Off I go to go be the best at it.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: And so that's just — that's just how we operate.
Dan Pashman: Right.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: [LAUGHS] She also said, "You've accomplished everything there is to accomplish." In her vision, I had checked off every box necessary to make her happy. So she was okay with it.
Dan Pashman: So on Housewives, what role does food play?
Dr. Wendy Osefo: It plays a big role. Whenever the group comes together, it's usually over food. It's almost like the "Last Supper", right?
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHS]
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Because something ... something always goes down. Sometimes food is thrown, drinks are thrown ....
Dan Pashman: Do you think the producers try to send you to restaurants where the food served is better for throwing?
Dr. Wendy Osefo: [LAUGHS] That would be genius of them.
Dan Pashman: Like tonight we're having whipped cream pies for dinner.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: How convenient.
Dan Pashman: Yeah. [LAUGHS]
Dr. Wendy Osefo: My first season there, I had a few events and everyone was like, "Wendy is the only person on this entire show who feeds her guests real food," because when you go to someone's house, they may say, "Here you go, some cheese and crackers.", and every time I had people over, I had like a 12-piece menu.
CLIP (WENDY OSEFO): Okay ...
CLIP (GUEST): What do you guys have?
CLIP (WENDY OSEFO): Suya, jollof rice, egusi soup, and some pounded yam.
CLIP (WENDY OSEFO): She's wants pounded yam.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: When I had people who wrote to me and was like, "I never thought I would see see jollof rice on national TV," and it's big for me. Nigerian food makes is literally part of who I am, and just being able to highlight that is amazing.
Dan Pashman: Another way being on Housewives affects Wendy’s cooking?
Dr. Wendy Osefo: We have to go to these trips and like one year we went to Portugal and the girls were making fun of me. They're like, "Well, we all know Wendy cooks for two days straight before she comes on any girl's trips." I do. I will make a whole menu for my kids and my husband to be okay to sustain for five days. And my other castmates are like, "Yeah, there's something called door dash." I'm like, there is, but it's different. I want them to eat my food, so …
Dan Pashman: But you doing that kind of reminds me of when your mom went to Pittsfield on that job and left you with your aunt.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Yes. You see. I didn't think of that. That's a good one. Man, when I tell you things that we do pass on and we don't even know it, like, why am I doing these things? Like, why am I cooking in bulk? I do it all the time. I did it before I had kids, cause I did a study abroad and my then fiance with my now husband was home and I made all this food and I wrote out a menu for him. I was like on Monday, you eat this. On Tuesday, you eat this. I got that from my mom.
Dan Pashman: Wendy’s mom still looms large in her life. They live close by, and Susan appears regularly on Housewives. With the show, Wendy’s profile got a lot bigger. At the end of her first season, she started to think her longtime dream of working in media and entertainment might be within reach. It could become more than an occasional spot on cable news. And, she realized, she was more interested in pursuing that than she was in being a professor. Wendy floated the idea to her mom on Housewives.
CLIP (WENDY OSEFO): So I’ve been thinking about it and I just don’t know whether or not being a professor is what I want to do.
CLIP (SUSAN OKUZU): [LAUGHS] Don’t scare me like that. You don’t want to go back to teaching?
CLIP (WENDY OSEFO): No, I don’t. Mom, just listen, please.
CLIP (SUSAN OKUZU): Okay.
CLIP (WENDY OSEFO): What I love and where I feel the most energy is when I do my political commentary. That’s what I feel like I’m going towards that path.
CLIP (SUSAN OKUZU): Jeez.
Dan Pashman: What was her concern about you leaving academia at time?
Dr. Wendy Osefo: As Nigerians, being told, we have to be a doctor or a lawyer or engineer isn't just because those are amazing professions, but because our parents wanted us to be in fields in which they felt was guaranteed success. And her fear was that if I left that I would be removing the safety net from under my feet.
Dan Pashman: Wendy continued to think about making a career change. As she writes in her book she brought it up to her mom again, this time in the kitchen. Her mom, like always, was cooking for the whole family. Wendy broke the news: She had decided she wanted to take a break from being a professor. This time instead of just laughing it off, Susan responded, "I'll be very disappointed if you leave your professorship, but I can't stop you."
Dan Pashman: This wasn't exactly a ringing endorsement. But as Wendy writes, "I would not get her approval on this decision, but she acknowledged her control over me was waning." And then, there in the kitchen, Susan did something that showed that another part of their relationship was changing.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: She's there in the kitchen. And in that moment I say to myself, well, let me see if I can cook with you. And so I asked her, I say, “Do you need help in the kitchen?” And for the first time, she actually says yes. And we stand side by side for the first time and we cook together.
Dr. Wendy Osefo: It was something that really made me look at her for the first time. Not as an equal because your parents can never be your equal, but it felt as though she not only loved me, but she respected me. And that meant a lot.
Dan Pashman: Did she say anything acknowledging this was the first time you were cooking together?
Dr. Wendy Osefo: No, she didn't necessarily say anything, but it was more so her actions. She would pass me vegetables to cut for her, which meant something. Because my mom cuts her okra in such a meticulous way that she takes half of it and slices it on the cutting board, and then takes the other half and grates it with a grater, so the soup can have different textures. And she doesn't let anyone touch her okra. And so her giving that to me, I was like, "This is it. I've made it. I made it." [LAUGHS] I made it. She didn't let me season though ...
Dan Pashman: [LAUGHING]
Dr. Wendy Osefo: Which is fine. I could respect that.
Dan Pashman: That’s Dr. Wendy Osefo. Her book Tears of My Mother is out now. Get it wherever books are sold. And we’re picking three lucky winners who will get a free copy of Wendy’s book. All you have to do is sign up for our newsletter by November 21st, and you’ll be entered into this and all of our giveaways.
Dan Pashman: People on our mailing list get access to all kinds of cool things. For instance, if you’d signed up just a couple weeks ago, you would have heard that Claire Saffitz episode I referenced is going to be taped in front of a live, very small, very select audience. And only people on our newsletter had a chance to get the tickets. So, cool stuff like that is gonna again. Just get on the list now, then you'll always be entered. Sign up for our newsletter now by going to sporkful.com/newsletter. That's sporkful.com/newsletter.
Dan Pashman: And even if you’re not one of the lucky ones coming to our live show with Claire Saffitz, you can still ask Claire a question about cooking or baking. Send me a voice memo with your first name, location, and question at email@example.com.
Dan Pashman: Finally, if you can’t get enough of the Real Housewives – I want you to check out the original recap podcast, Bitch Sesh: A Real Housewives Breakdown with Casey Rose Wilson and Danielle Schneider. It's brought to you by our friends at Earwolf, Bitch Sesh has followed all the cities and all the housewives for seven years. And they have a great community of listeners for you to feel safe about dishing your love of reality TV, however glamorous or trashy! Listen, I'm not judging. Okay? Janie, is a hardcore Real Housewives fan and has been pretty much since the beginning. Okay? So, whatever floats your boat. I I hope you like it and I hope you check out Bitch Sesh, because that is like the original Real Housewives podcast community. Okay? Every week, Casey & Danielle catch up with amazing guests. They review each city’s episode and breakdown what is really happening with your favorite housewives. So check out Bitch Sesh podcast wherever you listen.