Donor profile: Barbara and Terry Fenzl
Dec. 18, 2020
Viewers who were here in the late 1990s and early 2000s will remember Barbara Fenzl as the host of “Savor the Southwest” and a long list of specials produced by Arizona PBS. But for Barbara and her husband Terry, the Arizona PBS story goes back much farther.
“We’ve pretty much grown up with Channel Eight,” Barbara said. After falling in love with Arizona during a stay between Terry’s second and third years of law school, the couple moved here in 1969, when the station was only eight years old itself. They enjoyed watching Julia Child and other cooking shows, as well as the premiere Masterpiece drama, “Upstairs Downstairs.”
“We wouldn’t make any plans on Sunday night,” Barbara said of the days before DVRs and streaming. She and Terry remain big fans of Arizona PBS’ Sunday night dramas today.
“Once our children were born in the ‘70s, the only station they were allowed to watch was Channel Eight, because it was educational,” Barbara said. “They loved Mister Rogers and they loved ‘Sesame Street,’ and so that was a big part of their life growing up here.”
Barbara said that she was first approached about becoming part of the PBS family herself when Jillian Robinson, Arizona PBS’ manager of program development and production, approached her at a Scottsdale event for her book “Southwest: The Beautiful Cookbook.”
“Jillian said, ‘I moved here from London because I wanted to do a cooking show about the Southwest, and I want it to be as beautiful as this book.’ I was all in,” Barbara remembered. She and Robinson worked for five years to develop “Savor the Southwest.”
Barbara had done cooking segments on other local channels, but knew her television skills weren’t polished. She signed up for a media training program in Boston. “They took me out to local grocers and people like that, and I had to interview them,” Barbara said. “That’s how I got experience interviewing people and not just showing how to cook something.”
After “Savor the Southwest” aired in 1999 — not just in Arizona, but in 90 cities around the country — Barbara said she would be recognized occasionally.
“Sometimes it would be people at the grocery store asking, now what do you do with this? And they would show me their rutabaga,” Barbara said.
After the success of “Savor the Southwest,” Barbara hosted a number of specials and pledge events for the station. “We decided we had to keep this on a roll,” Barbara said. “So we came up with the idea of ‘A is for Appetizers,’ ‘B is for Baking,’ ‘C is for Cookies and Cakes,’ and so on. I think we did 15 of those.” She also hosted “Centennial Cooks” in honor of Arizona’s 100th anniversary.
For these specials, viewers were invited to send in recipes to be featured on the show. The challenge was narrowing the list down to only 10 recipes for each show, Barbara said.
“It was a really fun experience,” she said. “There was such a camaraderie on the set.” Sometimes, some of her students would be in the phone banks, and would slip her notes when other friends called in to donate and say hello.
Days could be long and tiring. “One time, we were taping all day for ‘Centennial Cooks,’” Barbara said. “I was so fried after eight hours of filming that I couldn’t get Henry’s name right” — that’s producer Henry Brodersen — “and I’d known him for 25 years! I just blanked.”
The in-studio cooking shows stopped when Arizona PBS moved to our current location, where our studios are now on the sixth floor and gas stoves aren’t permitted. “When Jacques Pépin came, we didn’t realize that,” Barbara said. “It was a big deal for him to do that show with me! Some temporary changes were made to the kitchen and the fire marshal said it was okay, so we pulled that one off.” Since then, Arizona PBS has brought our cameras into the community to highlight chefs in their own homes and restaurants.
This year has been much quieter for Barbara and Terry. In 2019, Barbara closed Les Gourmettes Cooking School, which she’d run in her home for 36 years. A celebration of the school had been planned for May 2020, but had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. “It wouldn’t be right to even have a party like that anymore,” Barbara said. “The chefs are still in trouble and it’s a tough time for everybody.”
Like all of us, Barbara and Terry miss family and friends who live far away, but they enjoy seeing their daughter and her family who live locally. “Exercise is important and being outside is huge,” Barbara said. “We play tennis as often as we can.” And they enjoy Arizona PBS.
Their support for the station stems from their love of the programs and the value they see in educational television. “People are always telling me, ‘Oh, it’d be so great to be on the Food Network,’” Barbara said. “I say, no, that’s just entertainment. PBS is about education. Jacques Pépin, Joanne Weir, Martin Yan, Rick Bayless, they’ve all taught at my school — they are teachers. I think that’s a very valuable part of it: we always learn something.”
This story was originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of Arizona PBS magazine.