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CHEFLIFE

Ahh - the life of a Chef. Based on the onslaught of TV cooking shows it sure sounds fun and glamorous but what is it really like being a Chef? Here at Project Foodie we are exploring just that in our ‘ChefLife’ series. We’ll be talking with Chefs to get a glimpse into their lives through their own stories. How did they decide to become a Chef? What was culinary school and/or an apprenticeship like? Do they eat their own food? What led them to pursue their particular culinary cuisine? What are the challenges they face? Join us as we explore these and many other aspects in the life of a Chef…

Woman Bites Dog

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Written by Peggy Fallon   
Saturday, 30 January 2010

ImageHot dogs have been getting a lot of press lately. Not the mystery-meat variety encased in plastic and found in every supermarket, but a new breed of dog developed to satisfy both the palate and the pocketbook. Leave it to chefs Gayle Pirie and John Clark to lead the dog race in the San Francisco bay area.

This wildly talented husband-wife team spent years cooking at landmark restaurants like Zuni Café and Chez Panisse; and then developed a restaurant consulting business servicing clients all over North America, Asia, and Canada. In 2001 the pair took over the kitchen at Foreign Cinema (one of my very favorite San Francisco restaurants), where their ever-changing Mediterranean-inspired menu has won critical acclaim from just about every local publication, as well as the New York Times and Gourmet magazine.
     

ImageWhen I heard they had recently opened a "hot dog joint" on a busy corner in downtown San Francisco's historic theater district, it took me about 30 seconds to slip into my rain boots and head out the door - but first, a quick telephone conversation with Gayle. (Quick because she was in her car, headed to the northern California wine country for yet another consulting appointment.)


Despite their impeccable credentials, these chefs are no food snobs. They live and eat in the real world…just with standards a little higher than some of us. With two children aged 11 and 4, their busy lives have another important dimension, often causing one parent to remain close to home while the other oversees a restaurant. Like many families, their evenings often revolve around homework and other school-related activities. Even amidst all this craziness, they eat together as a family every day, and do their best to maintain a creative, stress-free environment where solitary computer-time is kept to a minimum.

Dinner en famille may feature a "gourmet" mac & cheese, a beloved fettuccine, or a favorite hash made from leftover steak. Preferred late-night snacks include hot chocolate, popcorn, and fresh fruit. (Needless to say, these "ordinary" treats are made extraordinary at Chez Clark - using only best-quality organic products.)

Lest we mistake her for Super Woman, Gayle readily admits she offsets periodic anxiety attacks with a massage, a pedicure, or acupuncture. (My kind of gal.) And like many parents on particularly busy days, it's not unusual for them to order take-out sushi from a neighborhood restaurant.

The couples' many consulting stints led them to explore the fast-food restaurant concept; particularly one that would elevate the common to the sublime. Inspired by a lifelong love of boudin blanc - as well as the occasional really good American hot dog - the answer became clear.

Show Dogs offers a globally-inspired menu of artisan hot dogs produced by a variety of local meat purveyors; complemented by an ingenious selection of house-made condiments and carefully selected local beers and wines. And don't look for any anemic, cottony hot dog buns here….theirs are custom-made daily by the legendary Acme Bread Company. House sides include Grass Fed Beef Chili, simply perfect Onion Rings, and Fresh Cut Fries - with or without their signature "barbecue dust".

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Photography by John A. Benson
Purists may prefer to stick with one of Show Dogs' more traditional all-beef hot dogs, but I'd hate to pass on the Wild Boar Sausage, Organic Andouille, or Chicken Apple Sausage served with their own apple-ginger chutney. I took a tip from Gayle and ordered her favorite Pickled Louisiana Hot Link served with Rogue's Crater Lake blue cheese and a handful of tiny arugula leaves. (I have been dreaming of this combination ever since.) We also wolfed down a remarkably good Vegetarian Chipotle Sausage served with house mustard and a fire roasted tomatillo-sweet corn salsa. With free Wi-Fi and an average check of about $7.00 per person (without alcohol), this place is definitely something to bark about.

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Gayle Pirie and John Clark are the authors of the Williams-Sonoma Bride & Groom Cookbook (Free Press 2006) and Country Egg, City Egg (Artisan 2000). Read more about their restaurants at www.showdogssf.com and www.foreigncinema.com.

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Chefs' Holidays: Suzanne Goin

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Written by Heather Jones   
Thursday, 29 October 2009

ImageWe’re going to end our series of Chefs’ Holidays interviews on a definite high note.

The year was 1999 and I was in culinary school, I had just a few more months to go and no idea what the future would hold for me. I remember picking up my latest issue of Food and Wine magazine, with the cover boasting the headline 'Best New Chefs', and being in awe of the then 32 year old Suzanne Goin who had worked the kitchens of Chez Panisse and Campanile.  After reading through her profile I thought only one thing. That could be me.   

Well, here it is ten years later and I’m sure Suzanne like me is pretty surprised at where our careers have taken us, but one thing is for sure - Suzanne has definitely lived up to her title of Best New Chef. Today, she’s no longer a new chef but she is one of the best chef’s in this country. Suzanne Goin will be part of the Chefs' Holidays session that runs from Sunday January 24 - Tuesday January 26, 2010.

Recently, I got the chance to ask Suzanne a few questions. Here's what she had to say:

Q: For our readers that may be unfamiliar, please share with us you culinary journey.  When did you decide you wanted a career in food?

A: I have always loved food, restaurants and cooking since I was a child -- my parents were really into food (I always say they were foodies before the term was coined). On weekends when I was bored I would open a cookbook and just make something. My sister and I even "catered" my parents' dinner parties starting from when I was about 10 years old. But my parents were into education and being a chef was just not a career that people really talked about then (pre-food network, pre-celebrity chef). Most chefs were French men so it didn't really occur to me. So I followed the college track, went to brown, but as soon as I got there I found myself looking for a restaurant job.  I ended up at al Forno, which was amazing. While I loved school, my heart was really in the restaurant, so when I graduated I started cooking full time. I got a job at Chez Panisse, went to work in France for Alain Passard, came back to Boston and worked for Jody Adams and Todd English. I moved back to LA in the mid-90's and worked for Mark Peel and Nancy Silverton, Joachim Splichal and eventually opened Lucques.
 
Q: What trends in the food world right now have you most excited and why?

A: I sort of hate the idea of trends and food being trendy. That being said I'm excited that people have embraced the idea of slow-food, shopping locally, farmers markets, handcrafted artisan products and organic and sustainable thinking. I just hope it's not a trend.

Q: Could you tell us a few restaurant secrets/tips that home cooks could benefit from?

A: Sharpen your knives (or get them sharpened). Think in terms of Mise en place - do your prep and set yourself up for success so you can enjoy cooking and your guests.

Q: When you're not at your restaurants/businesses where can we find you?

At home with my husband and 3 kids (doesn't happen that often!) Or at the spa (my vice)....or ideally on Kauai!

Q: After 11 years, Lucques is still one of the most well-known and celebrated restaurants in this country, what is the secret to your success?

A: Lucques is a very personal place. My partner and I really poured, and continue pouring, our hearts and soul into it. I think people can feel that even if they don't know what they are feeling. And the space is great, it's warm and cozy. I think you just feel good when you are there and hopefully the food is good too!

Q: What tips do you have for women in the restaurant business, or those who want to get into the business in regards to balancing family and career?

A: Wow, I need someone to give me some tips! I guess my advice is that it's really really hard. I mean the work is hard and the hours are hard and in many ways its not conducive to family life at all. I'm sort of struggling with that now... You have to love it (the business) incredibly and be really dedicated to it or it just doesn't make sense (personally I couldn't imagine doing anything else). So many people drop out because it is too much. Up until we had kids it was easy to balance because my husband is a chef too. We would just hang out late at night, in the morning and on Mondays. But now with the kids it's really hard because they don't want me to go to work and I really miss them. I'm working it out, but I feel like it's almost impossible to balance it - which is hard.

 

Thank you Chef Goin for taking the time to speak with us along with Chefs David Kinch, Carla Hall, and Christopher Lee.  If you have a chance to get to Chefs' Holidays this year then go, with such great culinary talent there it sounds like an event not to be missed.  

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Chefs' Holidays: David Kinch

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Written by Heather Jones   
Tuesday, 27 October 2009

ImageCalifornia has become known as home to some of the best chefs and food visionaries in the world, including Thomas Keller, Alice Waters, and now Chef David Kinch.  Chef Kinch, of the Michelin two starred restaurant Manresa, takes classic French cooking techniques and combines it with the abundant regional and local foods in the area to create dishes that are quoted as being “inspirational”.  I know a compliment like that would definitely continue to drive me to produce the best food I possibly could.

Quiet and self-spoken with a gentle spirit, he is the type of Chef you want to learn from. His love of good food and cooking is more who he is than what he does.  He will be presenting at the Chefs' Holidays Session that runs from Sunday January 10th - Tuesday January 12, 2010.

I was thrilled to send a few questions his way to find more about where his talent and drive come from.  Keep reading to find out a little more about this new hero of California Cuisine.

Q: For our readers that may be unfamiliar, please share with us your culinary journey.  When did you decide you wanted a career in food?

A: My first culinary memories were at family reunions in Lancaster County, Pennslylvania, the sharing of food with loved ones.  After moving to New Orleans and going to school there I started working in restaurants and have never really left.  I fell in love with the power of food and its effect on people and how ingrained it was and still is, in the culture there.  I have never left the business and knew what I wanted to do from then on.
   
Q: What trends in the food world right now have you most excited and why?

A: I am very excited with the continued maturity of the American food scene and its emphasis on the fundamentals, the quality of ingredients, its regional influences and a population that is embracing it.  I also am amazed at how the quality of cheeses in the US has increased so rapidly.
   
Q: Could you tell us a few restaurant secrets/tips that home cooks could benefit from?

A: I know it is boring to hear, but you should always by the best quality ingredients that one can afford.  It really makes all the difference.

Q: When you're not at your restaurants/businesses where can we find you?

A: You will find me at home in Santa Cruz trying to spend as much time outdoors on the coast as I possibly can.

Q: Manresa is one of the most well-known restaurants in the world; what about the restaurant are you most proud of and why?

A: Without question it is our staff and team members.  Our restaurant is one that is built on collaboration and a sharing of ideas, a home to a dedicated and passionate staff that really believes in our goals and what we try to accomplish.
   
Q: If you could open another restaurant anywhere else in the world where would it be and what type of cuisine would you focus on?

A: I haven't thought that far yet!

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Chefs' Hoildays: Carla Hall

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Written by Heather Jones   
Tuesday, 20 October 2009

ImageAs Foodie Pam shared with us in her previous post, 2010 will mark the 25th anniversary of Chefs’ Holidays at Yosemite National Park and here at Project Foodie we were lucky enough to be able to interview some of this year’s culinary headliners.  Last week, we shared what Chef Christopher Lee of the famed Aureole in New York had to say. Up next is former Top Chef finalist Carla Hall who will be part of the Chefs' Holidays Top Chef Competitors Session that runs from Wednesday January 27 - Thursday January 28, 2010

On Top Chef Carla was the one pegged least likely to succeed, the one that some contestants thought didn’t have what it took, but in the end she surprised them all.  With each challenge she became more confident and endeared herself to them all with her simple, well prepared seasonal cuisine, and infectious sense of humor. She soon landed herself in the top three where she proved that she has what it takes to be a Top Chef finalist. 

Accountant turned runway model turned celebrity chef and caterer she definitely has some serious star power and we haven’t seen the last of her not by a long shot. Read on to find out exactly what makes this chef one to watch.  

Q: Who and/or what has inspired your cooking and cuisine the most?

A: I would have to say it was both my grandmothers who inspired my cooking style - well, once I decided to take that path.  Their Southern style coupled with the French cooking techniques learned in cooking school have become the basis of many creations and/or updated old favorites.

Q: As a Top Chef finalist, you've had a whirlwind of activity the past year or so.  How has this experience affected you and your cooking?

A: Thanks to Top Chef, I've had to learn how to balance the many appearances and travelling with running my rapidly growing catering   business.  I've challenged myself to continue growing as my cooking style matures and to share my passion with others.  One of the benefits of the many cooking demonstrations is that it forces me to document the dishes I've created with written recipes.

Q: While on top Chef you had the opportunity to meet such culinary greats as Jacques Pepin, etc. What famous chef would you love to share a meal with and why?

A: Gosh, this is hard.  There are so many great chefs I would love to talk to and share a meal with.  However, the chef who pops in my head is Jamie Oliver.  I love his easy and casual cooking style. You get the impression that he loves what he does, and he's really vested in you, the viewer, getting something out of what he has to share.  I would love to talk to him about his Ministry of Food program.  His passion about food is infectious.

Q: You were a runway model at one time and I would imagine are very well-traveled, in what countries did you have some of your most memorable meals. Can you tell us what was on the menu?

A: When I was modeling, I was in my twenties, and I didn't have the same income I now have in my forties.  I was always looking for the cheapest, as well as the most memorable.  Generally, it was street food.  One of the most memorable meals I had was a thick slice of pizza in Milan.  I remember the vendor cutting it with scissors - I shared the one slice with a friend.  After the slice, we had a memorable cup of the most delicious gelato I'd ever had.

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