One day a few months back my mom was at the library in our hometown north of Chicago and found out Gale Gand, pastry chef extraordinaire, was talking there. I’ve always wanted big things for this blog, so I did some investigative reporting, turns out she’s a sweet woman and had no problem talking to me between her discussions as part of a panel at Robert Morris College’s Culinary Symposium on Friday, March 27 in downtown Chicago.
I’m not going to list everything she’s accomplished, a quick Google search will tell you how impressive her resume is. That’s not why I was interviewing her; in fact I generally asked her the same questions I’d ask any chef. After meeting Tyler Florence last weekend though, I was curious about the idea of being a celebrity chef and the dynamic of not only proving your prowess in the kitchen, but the ability to sell yourself too.
Does she ever feel nervous doing cooking demos, meeting dignitaries, or even have a rough night in the kitchen? Nope. Never. Ok, once, she said. It was a cooking demo really early on in her career, it lasted two minutes and then it was over.
How could she not get nervous meeting presidents and other legendary chefs? Gale Gand’s father, Bob Gand, owns a music store in my hometown, and in fact, I took guitar lessons there in 7th grade, purchased a few mouthpieces for my trombone and got all my piano sheet music there as well. Needless to say, Gand was performing on stage from an early age. She credits this to giving her the confidence to once tell President Clinton she was the most important person in the room at Mayor Daly’s birthday party. It worked, as she got to sit next to him the rest of the night.
As I’ve interviewed more and more successful professionals, a pattern emerges.
People who have achieved great success seem not to have had that as a goal. Gand didn’t plan to get where she is, it happened because she loved what she was doing, and consequentially worked incredibly hard. Several students asked how to break in to higher end restaurants– a question I’ve heard come up a lot lately.
Culinary school exists and certainly can help, but many chefs from Gand’s era came up just by getting work in the kitchen, apprenticing, helping make pie crust every Thursday morning. Gand believes you can learn just as much doing the work as going to school, and it doesn’t cost anything.
A branch of this discussion was the decision to be a chef. She made it clear that if you’re gonna commit, you’ll know. It will feel like there is nothing else you can do in the world other than be a chef. If you don’t feel that, you can’t dedicate your time and life to the study with enough passion to do it well.
I asked if any treats from childhood stick with her. I personally grew up with Italian Knot Cookies (or as we called them phonetically “tudd-alls”) every Christmas, and it was my great grandmother’s recipe. I can eat about 30 of them, if I’m a bit hungry. Gand had an answer for me before I even finished asking the question. Her mother used to ball together ground pecans and cover them in powerdered sugar, giving them away as gifts in thank you and greeting card boxes. Gand still remembers the smell and the feel of the box, seeping with grease from the butter.
We talked more about why she moved back to Chicago (it is better place to raise a family than NYC), why Chicago is such a great place to cook and eat (she believes the people understand the historical significance of food, the diversity of culture, and the geographical location is fantastic).
I asked what she thought of trends. As a photojournalist, I see trends all the time. A couple years ago people started making their own ring flashes, and all of a sudden, everyone had a shadowless picture in their portfolio thanks to some tupperware and tinfoil. Gand’s take is that its not original, but you’re not alone in doing it. She once tried to see if she could start her own, when a journalist had asked her to try and predict the future trends, she just made it up. She declared it the year of the rutabaga. Ironically, it kinda worked.
Besides actually serving someone the food you cooked, I asked, what was the best medium to reach people, the best way to communicate without sitting at the table? She replied teaching. She loves giving some part of her knowledge to others, to share in that joy that is food. If television is the easiest, most efficient way to teach others how to cook, then so be it.
Finally, Gand has a root beer she’s been brewing for a while now, but just recently made the switch over to cane sugar, something I’m super excited about (read my post on Pepsi Throwback for more info on cane sugar in soda). The closest Sunset Foods to me never seems to have it in stock, but I’m gonna have a word with the manager when I move back to Chicago in May.
I asked what was next on her plate, any big news? She’ll be touring the release of her new book, Brunch! for the next 6 weeks, and it will be released on April 7th. I caught a glance of a copy, and it looked awesome. I mean really, who can argue against brunch? I don’t even wake up in time for breakfast on the weekend, so besides being my only option, its also delicious. You can pre-order it on Amazon with that link.