Chef Academy's Leo and Suzanne

Several weeks ago (just before I got a job and still had time to do these sorts of things on a Tuesday afternoon, let alone write about them in a timely fashion), I went to a cooking demonstration by two stars of Bravo's Chef Academy: Suzanne Winn and Leo Goodloe.

I meant to watch an episode or two before the demo, and ended up watching the whole series in three days or so. It's easy to become addicted to any reality show, but when the people you're watching are likable and deserving of the spotlight (Jersey Shore crew, I'm not talking about you), you don't even feel guilty about it.

Leo was focused and professional throughout the show. He rarely had anything bad to say about anyone, and though he was always at the head of the class, he wasn't cocky. Suzanne, love her, has a Real Housewives of Orange County look (because she's a mother in the real OC), but the woman didn't go that route. Instead, she enrolled in an intensive culinary program and subjected herself to some rigorous kitchen work. Ok, yeah, she got in trouble for wearing too much lip gloss and for meeting with a tailor in the middle of a lesson…but how much of that is orchestrated by producers anyway? She didn't seem like a ditz to me. She seemed smart and funny and incredibly charismatic. I really wanted this woman to do well.

And you know what? Leo and Suzanne made an even better impression in person. After the demo, I waited to talk to Suzanne, who was talking to a group of women already. “Come join the circle, sweetie,” she said, motioning me over. Then she hugged me and thanked me for coming. Leo was equally gracious and easy to talk to. Both were so encouraging and forthcoming with stories and advice for me.

The food didn't disappoint, either. Dark chocolate pots de cremes with rock-your-socks butterscotch sauce and vanilla bean whipped cream. French bread slices layered with goat cheese, freshly made tomato sauce and melted fontina. Either of which I could die happy after. (Some recipes from the demo are here.)

My point is, I don't want this to be the last I see of Leo or Suzanne. Give them a book, a TV show, a catering/party-planning company…I'd support any of it.

You can find Chef Academy reruns on Bravo, iTunes or here. Check out Suzanne's Meals in Heels demonstrations on YouTube.

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And watch my favorite clip of Suzanne on Chef Academy here at the 6:08 mark.


Cinco de Mayo Cooking Demo with Chef LaLa

With a name like Chef LaLa and a cookbook called Latin Lover Lite, Laura Diaz-Brown highlights her funky — and easily marketable — side. But after a Cinco de Mayo cooking demonstration, I found more to admire about the woman.

Chef LaLa cooked and spoke at an Inside Columbia Magazine event Friday night. She was also in town for the Speaking of Women’s Health conference. In an hour, I learned she used to be a pop singer, went to med school to be a heart and lung specialist, became a certified nutritionist and studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris.

She also made four dishes in real time — without the tricks cooking demonstrators usually use. On her menu was:

  • Coca-Cola-Marinated Pork with Fruit Salad
  • Chicken Fajitas
  • Chicken Enchiladas
  • Colorful Bean Salad (Recipe on her website here.)

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Interview with Food Network star Gale Gand

Gand is the Executive Pastry Chef/Owner of TRU and host of Sweet Dreams on Food Network

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.

Robert Morris College students ask Gand for advice on success in the culinary industry

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.

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Celebrity Chefs and Housewares… Oh My!

Let me just get this outta the way. From what I’ve seen and who I’ve met, despite their celebrity status, the chefs at the IHA show at McCormick Place in Chicago were a.) really down to earth, and b.) really good chefs. Morimoto transformed a daikon into paper thin pasta sheets with just a knife by peeling and turning. Todd English can chop an onion faster than I’ve ever seen, with precision and calm I can’t imagine possible in front of a good 300+ people.

The real part of the show was the exhibitors and buyers walking around. Of course big names were there, KitchenAid, Wusthof, Pyrex, Lodge, Le Creuset (new colors are black and white, and they look nicer than it sounds, I promise). These booths looked like they could cost between 3,000 and 40,000 dollars, it was all pretty impressive.

This was also the first year restaurants were allowed booths, which was cool. Buca Di Beppo, Goose Island, and Lettuce Entertain You were there. I’ll write an entirely separate post for it, but I was given free beer wooden nickels to Goose Island plus a bag of potato chips (ironic if you read the preview post…).

Anyway, on to the chefs, that’s all you probably care about.


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