Jamie Pachino: “So Help Me Todd,” Food on TV and Chocolate Chip Cake

Taste Buds with Deb - Episode 48
March 20, 2024
Photo by Joe Mazza

There’s something about family dinner that transcends cultures, even when portrayed on a television show.

“Almost every episode is family dinner,” Jamie Pachino, a consulting producer on CBS’ “So Help Me Todd,” told the Journal.

The show, starring Marcia Gay Harden and Skyler Astin, is about Todd, a “failure to launch-ish” son (Astin) who goes to work as an investigator at his mother Margaret’s (Harden’s) law firm.

“They all come around to Margaret’s condo and … the hilarity ensues or there’s a sudden break in a case or whatever, but it’s always around dinner,” Pachino said.

There’s a reason food feels like a supporting character on the show.

“Food just comes in all the time,” Pachino said. “We talk about it in the writer’s room, it shows up in a lot of the scenes where people are eating or people are talking about eating.”

For instance, in the second episode of the season (202), which Pachnio wrote, she added a goofy, but relatable, food bit.

“Margaret and her love interest [are] sitting on the stairs of the courthouse splitting a sandwich,” Pachino said. “The showrunner was like, ‘Make it crazy.’”

The sandwich had beets, arugula, dates, alfalfa sprouts, shallots, etc.

“[Margaret] looks at him like he’s nuts and he goes, just taste it,” she said. “Props made that sandwich and the actors ate that sandwich, take after take.”

Whereas Pachnio could not vouch for the actual taste of the sandwich, she added, “They’re very good actors.”

An award winning playwright, screenwriter and TV writer, Pachino started her career as an actor and morphed into playwriting, which led to writing for film and TV.

“I fell madly in love with it because [TV writing] is about as close to theater as you can get when you’re working in this industry, because it’s really collaborative,” she said. “The writers have a lot of control in a way that they don’t necessarily have in features, and little by little, I’ve been working both in network and in cable and in streaming.”

Pachino has written more than a dozen plays, seen in four countries, as well as feature films for Disney, DreamWorks, Lionsgate, Vanguard Films and Walden Media. Her TV credits include “Sneaky Pete” (Amazon), “The Brave” (NBC), “Chicago PD” (NBC), “Halt and Catch Fire” (AMC).

She cites her late father, who happened to be a great lawyer and writer, as the major factor in her storytelling gene.

“He could tell a Jewish joke like nobody’s business,” she said.”He had that rhythm of how you tell a Jewish story; how you take your time, where the punchlines are and how you call things back and he gave amazing speeches.

Pachnio says she has put food in almost everything she’s ever written.

“There’s a long running joke … when I started out playwriting, there would either be bourbon or Chinese food in every play,” she said.“Chinese food is a hundred percent from my Jewish upbringing.”

Pachnio’s family kept kosher, and they had plates for meat, milk and takeout Chinese food. When she was in Junior high school, Pachino’s father started making homemade Chinese food once a month.

“It was the only time he ever cooked; he got books and he did research and it was so delicious,” she said. “When I was in college, and I moved into an apartment … the first thing that I started cooking was Chinese food.

“My love of cooking was born out of Chinese food in a Jewish home,” she said.

Pachino still loves to cook.

“It’s my relaxation,” she said. “I find it really creative.”

Pachino, who has put in her 10,000 hours of writing and cooking, finds similarities between the two processes.

After you’ve done something for so long, there’s a trust that everything will come out okay, so you may as well just start.

“My husband lovingly refers to me as the “MacGyver” of the kitchen,” Pachino said. ‘He’s like, ‘She can open the refrigerator and there’s like cauliflower and a ball of string and suddenly poof dinner.’”

Although Pachino does not bake much, one of her favorite recipes is her mother’s chocolate chip cake, which she made for almost every Jewish holiday when Pachino was growing up.

“It went first off at the dessert table,” she said. “It’s the best and the easiest cake in the world.” The recipe is below.

“My daughter, who went through a big baking phase, came up with this great twist on it,” she said. “We put it into little cupcake tins and then she made [a dark] chocolate ganache to ice it with; highly recommended.”

Watch “So Help Me Todd” Thursday on CBS and on Paramount + and learn more about Jamie Pachino at JamiePachino.com.

For the full conversation, listen to the podcast:

Gloria’s Chocolate Chip Cake

Westend61/Getty Images

1 box yellow cake mix

1 box vanilla instant pudding

4 eggs

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup sour cream

4 oz German chocolate bar, grated

6 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips

powdered sugar for dusting

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a bundt pan.

In a stand mixer, mix yellow cake mix, vanilla instant pudding, eggs, water, oil and sour cream at medium speed for 2 minutes.

Hand fold in grated chocolate and chips until blended.

Bake for 50 minutes or until an inserted knife comes out clean.

Let cool. Dust with powdered sugar to serve.

Easy to freeze and enjoy later too!

Debra Eckerling is a writer for the Jewish Journal and the host of “Taste Buds with Deb.Subscribe on YouTube or your favorite podcast platform. Email Debra: tastebuds@jewishjournal.com.

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