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Food & Dining

The Stew: Dishing with a former porn star

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Published:   |   Updated: August 19, 2013 at 12:20 PM

PORT RICHEY — I'm sitting with Mariah Milano in an Italian bakery. There is a video camera pointed at us. She is nervous.

Her anxiety is unexpected, especially for someone who once was nominated for the Adult Video Hall of Fame.

Mariah, which of course is not her real name, had invited me to a lobster and steak dinner at her home. For dessert, she brought me to Sorrento & Joseppi's bakery and deli on U.S. 19.

“It's the best Italian bakery I've ever been to,” she told me. “Even better than any I've been to in New York.”

In front of us on the table sits a cannoli stuffed with pillowy ricotta filling. Next to that is a lobster tail-shaped sfogliatelle pastry. On a third plate is an elaborate Napoleon dessert. Her cameraman, Brian, is filming our meal for her website, DinnerWithMariah.com.

It's been two years since she did her last adult film scene. Becoming an online food star is her new goal.

The plan: To entice the huge audience she built while performing in explicit films and adult webcam shows into watching her make dinner. Fully clothed.

Only today, Mariah is having trouble introducing the bakery segment. She trips over a few words while explaining what we're doing here. In a blink, her Brooklyn-flavored voice goes from smoky to frustrated.

Brian patiently asks her to do another take. He'll fix it in editing, he says. She drags a perfectly manicured nail through her black hair.

“She could take her clothes off and walk through this place naked and have no problem with it,” he says to me. “But when it comes to speaking on camera, she gets nervous.”

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From 1998 to 2000, Mariah performed in hundreds of adult films. She came back to the industry in 2004, launching her website and hosting more than 30 others. In 2008, she went back in front of the camera after starting a production company of her own.

“It was fun,” she said. “Then it stopped being fun. It's disgusting to me now.”

One of the last things she did was a webcam show. Only instead of getting naughty, she cooked for those who clicked in to watch her.

“Guys went nuts even though I was clothed,” she said. “I was dressed in a tank top and shorts.”

The response triggered an idea to move into doing cooking segments. But when she started posting food porn on her XXX Twitter feed instead of actual porn, followers dropped by the dozens.

“At first I ignored the fact that I was ever in adult films,” she said. “But I was losing a lot of followers on Twitter. I kind of got it. So now I have to introduce that side as well as my cooking.”

In May 2012, she started DinnerWithAPornStar.com. The site showcased her love of travel and food.

“I may not be having sex on camera anymore,” she wrote on the site, “but sharing my love for great food and wine and travel is pretty stimulating in its own right.”

In January, Mariah moved more heavily into food by shooting cooking segments for her Dinner With Mariah site. The clips are accurately tagged “Not your mother's cooking lessons.”

When she makes Beef Wellington or Cincinnati Chili, the plate looks like a real person, not a food stylist, made the meal. When a forkful tastes exceedingly good, she garnishes the conversation with an unfiltered F bomb. And when she cooks, the woman once described as an “exotic, curvy, Italian spitfire” does so in outfits that flatter her professional-grade cleavage. Meatballs are cooked with a wink. When she shakes a martini, it stays shaken.

She also applies a multimedia mogul's mentality. Every day for the first six months of the year, she made a recipe on camera and uploaded it to her Dinner With Mariah YouTube channel. Then she went online to interact with Twitter followers through her @DinnerMariah handle. She also posted it to her Facebook fan page.

When she went to the Bahamas in July, she filmed a week's worth of segments in a couple of days. And she took cameras to film her swimming with sharks, eating hamburgers under a tiki hut and snorkeling in caves.

When you're trying to be a food star, everything you do has potential to be content.

Right around that time, she direct messaged me on Twitter: “You should write a story about me.”

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I've had a mild fascination with the food life of porn stars ever since I was followed on Twitter several years ago by @ChristyWild. Her profile read, “I'm a stripper, porn chick, geek, wiccan, oenophile, bibliophile and sushi lover.” It was an unexpected combination.

She lives in Green Bay, Wisc., now, but back then, she lived in Tampa. I asked her about wine and her favorite spots for sushi. We met a few times to throw down some uni and a California roll or two. The woman knew her stuff.

A few years later, I interviewed porn star Ron Jeremy about his Ron de Jeremy brand rum. Yes, it was a goof on the legendary adult actor's name and a play on the fact that the Spanish word for rum is “ron.” But he was well-versed in the history of the spirit,and he saw it as a link to his family's New York deli. He autographed a bottle for me. “Thanks for the smart interview, Ron Jeremy,” he wrote, and then joked on the back, “$200 on eBay.”

So when Mariah asked to make me dinner for her Web series, I was intrigued. How does someone make the left turn from porn to food? How do you go about bridging two seemingly opposite topics? I arrived at her two-story waterfront house not knowing what to expect.

She answered the door in a tank top and shorts, shooing away her dog, Nikki, a Jack Russell terrier. She led me upstairs to the kitchen, where she was making Wagyu steak she ordered online and an enormous lobster tail. As a side dish, she prepared coconut rice, head-on shrimp cooked in coconut milk, cilantro chili and lime. As Brian filmed us in the bright, tastefully decorated dining room, we dug in.

The steak was cooked to a perfect medium-rare. The lobster was tender and decadent when dragged in melted butter. The coconut shrimp melted in my mouth.

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But the best part was the conversation. We talked about how she taught herself to cook, about how she loves cooking for people who love food. She explained why she stopped making adult films and joked about how women can be so catty judging the way other women eat.

I asked about whether she can tell if someone is faking when they say they like her food. I made like Meg Ryan in her screaming deli scene in “When Harry Met Sally.”

“I can't tell they're faking if I don't know the person,” she said. “If I know the person, I'll know. But if I taste it and it's bomb, then I'll know you like it.”

Which reminded her of her previous career.

“With porn, I can totally tell when someone is being fake,” she said. “Because I know. The viewers don't.”

Brian stopped the camera.

“Don't forget your girl crush,” he said.

”Oh, that,” her eye-roll appeared to say. One of her sponsors wants her to pepper her food videos with more sexy talk. Announcing a girl crush each week is a nod to that. Tacking on the occasional R-rated film clip is another. She thinks for a second and then names Miley Cyrus.

“I like her style,” Mariah says. “She's doing her thing. She's wild as hell. I think it's kind of cool.”

She means what she's saying, but you can tell she would rather talk about food. It's hard to change an image when you're expected to be what you were.

It's not unlike Miley Cyrus, who is still trying to escape her Disney Channel show, “Hannah Montana.” On that series, Cyrus played a teenage girl who led a double life as a high school student and a pop star. In real life, Cyrus is playing the role of bad girl while trying to keep some of her squeaky clean image.

Maybe Miley should try cooking steak and lobster and coconut rice.

It's working like a charm for Mariah.

jhouck@tampatrib.com

(813) 259-7324

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