TV talent and professionally trained chef makes the most of sheltering in her hometown
Alex McLeod was born and raised in Galveston and went on to become an Emmy-nominated TV host, launching some of the most popular reality based programs, including “Trading Spaces” and “Joe Millionaire 1.”
McLeod, known for her flair for interiors, took a break from TV entirely to devote herself to maintaining the 8-acre Los Angeles estate she shared with her Croatian fiancé John Z. Blazevich, a food entrepreneur. The couple has since sold the West Coast dream home and in 2018 moved to the Dalmatian Coast. Now, they’re on the Texas Gulf Coast determining their next big move as they wait out the pandemic.
While most people know McLeod for her talents on camera, she also happens to be a professionally trained chef and food lover, having graduated from both the University of Texas and Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts.
The “Super Aunt” enjoys entertaining and spending time with her nieces and nephews, who refer to time spent with her on vacations and staycations as “Camp Alex.”
Coast Monthly catches up with McLeod during her stay on the island.
Where are you sheltering? Being mandated to shelter in place near my family was a blessing during this pandemic. We rented a home in Beachtown, it’s Galveston in a bygone era. We were living in Europe on the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia when the pandemic broke out. I got caught in the travel ban and decided the Gulf Coast was the best place to shelter in Texas.
Favorite island restaurants? Lately any place we can sit outdoors with a view or brown pelican watching. On the East End, it’s Katie’s Seafood House (grilled fresh catch jerk-style with skillet cornbread), BLVD Seafood (best gumbo in town), Gaido’s (shrimp cocktail with remoulade sauce), Nick’s (Southwestern salad with grilled mahi mahi). When I go west, Shearn’s (classic Caesar, lobster bisque) and Waterman’s (fried pickles and blackened red snapper).
Favorite beach? Beachtown is peaceful and Pirates Beach is fun. I discovered a wonderful island concierge service called Sea La Vie; they set up umbrella canopies and chairs for me everywhere. I just show up.
Does Galveston seem different since you lived here? The faces and places have changed considerably, but the relaxed feeling when I reach the causeway never does. The newer beachfront real estate developments on the East and West ends are impressive. Generally, the island offers more amenities for adults and activities for kids. My nieces and nephews enjoy sailing camp at Sea Star Base Camp and visiting all of the attractions at Moody Gardens year-round. The pandemic inspired an island fever this year, but guests should treat the island like they live here — that is what I do.
What do you miss the most when you’re not in Galveston? My family. The sound of seagulls. The beachy breeze. Chilled shrimp cocktails — for some reason, they just taste better in Galveston.
What inspired you to get professional chef training? Have you always liked to cook? My appreciation for good food began in childhood. My fiancé was in the food business for 35 years, we spent much time in the world’s best restaurants and hotels. The tips from the celebrity chefs I encountered in our travels gave me confidence to elevate my skill set and enroll at Le Cordon Bleu. These days, I am less concerned about cooking a Bocuse d’Or-worthy meal and more concerned with food as medicine. I want to live longer; my diet is more plant-based with seafood and meat on special occasions.
What do you consider your specialty dish or dishes when entertaining? Family and friends seem to like my chargrilled jumbo garlic shrimp over Asian slaw, baked vegetarian pastas and chili with filet mignon. My fiancé loves my fresh fruit-filled pies. My dishes are colorful, and I incorporate vegetables as much as possible.
Tell us about your Camp Alex barbecue playlist? For years, my nieces and nephews have referred to my world as “Camp Alex.” Camp Alex is a home base where my family members can go for food and fun wherever I am vacationing or staycationing. My top 40, rock and country quarantine music kept me going when I cooked, but drove the kids crazy. “Don’t Start Now” by Dua Lipa, “Only Human” by Jonas Brothers, “Adore You” by Harry Styles, “The Bones” by Maren Morris, “Nobody But You” by Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani. “Sunday Best” by Surfaces was my Beachtown theme song.
What have you learned about yourself during the pandemic? I have the discipline to socially distance from those I love most, but I have trouble staying away from my fridge.
What’s your guilty pleasure? Popcorn! Austin Gourmet Popcorn makes madcap flavors, but the Zilker chocolate mix is my favorite.
Is there anything you won’t eat? As an animal lover, I find eating exotic and domestic animals inhumane and insane. Hundreds of thousands die of foodborne illnesses every year, why take the risk? And I have never been a fan of delicacies like foie gras, pâté and escargot, but in French culinary school, I had to keep calm and carry on as they say.
If Galveston had a quintessential dish, what would it be? Shrimp po’boys are on the lips and hips of everyone in town — mine included.
Who has been your biggest influence? My father has a simple recipe for success. He stays enthusiastic about life, has a sense of duty, keeps his mind occupied, exercises regularly and maintains a sense of humor no matter what curveballs life throws at him. You will see a lot of him in all of us.
What are you reading? I am reading books about extraordinary women: “The Other Side of The Coin” by Angela Kelly (Queen Elizabeth’s Dresser) and “The Criminal Conversation of Mrs. Norton: Victorian England’s Scandal of the Century” by Diane Atkinson.
You have appeared on more than 100 episodes of TV, where can viewers find you these days? I recently gave viewers a tour of our former LA home on NBC’s “Open House,” CNBC’s “Secret Lifestyles” and Tennis Channel’s “The Changeover.” Right now, I am revamping my official website. Stay tuned.
My fiancé was in the seafood business for 35 years; we spent much time in Southeast Asia. This garlic shrimp paired with sweet and spicy Asian flavors is always a crowd pleaser at our family gatherings.
Chargrilled garlic shrimp with Asian slaw
3 pounds jumbo shrimp, peeled, tail-on, shelled, deveined, butterflied
1 cup olive oil
½ cup sliced garlic
1⁄3 cup Italian flat leaf parsley, finely chopped (reserve 2 tablespoons for garnish)
¼ cup fresh rosemary, finely chopped
Pinch red chili flakes
Himalayan sea salt and black pepper to taste
1 extra-large, 2-gallon resealable bag
For the slaw:
1 head Napa cabbage, core and tough parts removed, finely shredded
2 cups baby arugula
½ cup carrots, julienned
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
1 lime, halved
For the vinaigrette:
½ cup sesame oil
1 cup vegetable oil
½ cup seasoned rice vinegar
Himalayan sea salt and black pepper to taste
For the Thai aioli:
1 cup mayonnaise
½ cup sweet chili sauce
1-2 tablespoons sriracha hot sauce, to taste
1 plastic squeeze bottle for drizzle
Prepare shrimp marinade, set aside. Remove shells from shrimp keeping the tails in tact. Devein and butterfly shrimp, be sure not to cut too deep. Place shrimp in an extra-large 2-gallon plastic resealable bag, pour marinade over the shrimp, seal the bag tightly, refrigerate overnight, remove 20 minutes prior to cooking.
In a small bowl, combine ingredients for the Thai aioli, mix well, adjust to taste. Aioli should no longer taste like mayo, sweet and spicy but not too spicy. Pour into a plastic squeeze bottle, refrigerate 1-2 hours before serving, giving flavors time to marry.
Combine the ingredients for the Asian vinaigrette, whisk well, adjust to taste, season with salt and pepper, set aside.
Remove shrimp from refrigeration, set aside.
Meanwhile, prepare the slaw. Prep the vegetables and combine the cabbage, arugula, matchstick carrots and black sesame seeds in a large salad bowl, set aside.
Remove aioli from refrigeration, set aside.
Preheat a large sauté pan or grill pan until smoking hot.
Working in batches, remove the butterflied shrimp from marinade using tongs, chargrill the tail-on shrimp, making sure the shrimp get color and are cooked through, about 1-2 minutes on each side. Set shrimp aside on a warm plate. Do not overcook.
Drizzle the Thai aioli generously across a large serving platter.
Quickly toss the prepared slaw with a ¼ cup of the Asian vinaigrette, to taste. Place the Asian slaw on the dressed large platter.
Top slaw with the chargrilled shrimp presentation side up, garnish with chopped parsley, squeeze of lime juice. Serve family style.