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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…

Gesine Prado: Confections of a Master Baker

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Written by Heather Jones   
Sunday, 11 January 2009

ImageI love hearing stories about individuals that have followed their dreams and made a life for themselves doing something that they truly love. To me that's what its all about, and life is too short for regrets.  I know we all can't chuck our day jobs on a whim, but we should always try to find that one thing that we love and incorporate as much of it into our lives as possible. When I heard that Baker Gesine Prado is publishing a memoir chronicling how she went from being a Hollywood Film/television Executive (for her sister's production company, her sister is the award winning actress Sandra Bullock) to a Vermont Baker and Patisserie owner I was very intrigued.  I wanted to know just how someone goes from living the "suite" life to literally an even "sweeter" life.  Since I just couldn't wait until Gesine's book release this Fall I decided to go right to the source and chat one foodie to another with Gesine...

Foodie Heather: Tell me a little about yourself, where you grew up, etc.?

Gesine Prado: I grew up in Germany and Virginia. My mother is German and an opera singer.  My father is American and from the deep south. So it was an interesting and jarring intermingling of cultures. But it also made for a genetic predisposition to crave both café culture high art pastry and fried chicken with homemade mac and cheese.  We spent a while with my mother on the road in Europe and while she was off on longer jaunts, we'd stay with my aunt and my grandmother in Nürnberg.  But primarily we'd be in Salzburg. We returned to the states where my father worked at the Pentagon when I was 5 and we consoled ourselves with trips to Germany during summer vacation when possible.

Foodie Heather: What is your first baking memory?

Gesine Prado: There are many.  Germans bake all the time.  My mother baked for all our special baking occasions.  And she went far afield of the typical layer cake.  She'd rather master the complex desserts of the Viennese patisseries than stoop to American box blech.  She was pretty extraordinary that way.  And stubborn as hell.

Foodie Heather: Do you have any formal training?

Gesine Prado: None.  I trained myself.  I had a fine example in my mother.  Puff, laminates, sugar name it.  She mastered the French staples in our suburban kitchen.  So I followed her lead.

Foodie Heather: Before you followed your true calling, you were a Hollywood executive; Did you ever have time to cook and bake or were things too hectic? 

Gesine Prado: I baked all the time to reduce the growing disease of working in a place that made me terribly unhappy.  The more complex the recipe, the calmer I became.

Foodie Heather: Not too sound like Oprah, but when did you have your "Aha Moment", when did you realize that your life needed a change?

Gesine Prado: It took a slow accumulation of many crappy experiences for me to get the cosmic kick in the ass to change.

Foodie Heather: What is the best part about having your own business?

Gesine Prado: Making whatever you want.  Whenever you want.  And giving it away if you so please.

Foodie Heather: Any regrets?

Gesine Prado: None!

Foodie Heather: Favorite Dessert?

Gesine Prado: I don't have one.  It changes all the time.  My tastes change with the season and with whim.   
Foodie Heather: Favorite Savory Dish?
Gesine Prado: BLT

Foodie Heather: What is the one kitchen item you can't live without?  

Gesine Prado: My hands.

Foodie Heather: What's up next, besides the memoir?  

Gesine Prado: We've sold the building that houses Gesine Confectionary and I'm going to Austin for the winter to create a pastry menu for a little general store called "waltons" that's pretty much a lovely Lonestar version of Dean and Deluca.  So my focus will be on creating elegant Texas-centric signature desserts.  And I'll focus on expanding my online/retail business and of course pastry development, blogging/writing when I return to Vermont.

Foodie Heather: And one last question, I just have to know.  Can your sister (Sandra Bullock) bake?

Gesine Prado: Yes, and well.

Gesines Confeictionary in Montplier, VT closed its doors on Christmas Day, but stay tuned for even more exciting things to come from Gesine Prado including the release of her memoir this fall.



Top Chef - Stephanie Izard

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Written by foodie pam   
Thursday, 30 October 2008

ImageTop Chef season five starts November 12th, but not long ago Top Chef season four ended with the first female Top Chef – Stephanie Izard.    Since that win Stephanie has been busy traveling, making numerous appearances throughout the country, and was featured in Food & Wine magazine. On top of that, she is currently preparing for the spring opening of her restaurant in Chicago.   Busy as she is, Stephanie took the time to answer a few of Team Project Foodie’s questions on competing in Top Chef, life after Top Chef, and of course food.  She also shares with us a few great new recipes to enjoy this fall.  Here’s what she had to say – oh and don’t forget to check out the recipes below including an interesting Pear-Pistachio Soup and a luscious Sweet potato puree with blue cheese and brown sugar walnuts.

Carolyn Jung:  What was your favorite and least favorite Top Chef challenge?

Stephanie Izard: My favorite was restaurant wars.  I just had a great time with Richard and Antonia.  We work very well as a team and I have a huge amount of respect for both of them.  Plus, I got to do front and back of the house which was a lot of fun.  My least favorites were quick fires in general.  I just had way too many thoughts going through my head and could never decide on something quick enough!

Carolyn Jung: If you designed the ultimate challenge for the Top Chef contestants, what would you have them doing?

Stephanie Izard: I would have loved to see more with whole fish.  Perhaps having to go to a local wholesale fish house and butcher fish and then use that fish in the main challenge.

Carolyn Jung:  Are you sorry you created that dish of peanut butter and tomatoes? How did those two come together in your mind?

Stephanie Izard: The combination is actually used in Asia.  I wanted to bring a little acidity to the peanut sauce but I think the dish in general was a little off.

Carolyn Jung:  If the Season 4 contestants all opened their own restaurants, whose would you want to go to most of all? Whose would you want to eat at least of all? 

Stephanie Izard: I would want to go to all of them, and I am sure I will have the opportunity as everyone seems to be moving in that direction.

Foodie Pam:  If you know what you know now, would you still have done Top Chef?

Stephanie Izard: Yes in a heart beat.  It was such a unique experience and has opened so many doors for me.

Foodie Heather: Saying that your life has changed since winning Top Chef I'm sure is quite an understatement, but what have been some of the major changes in your life since winning the contest?

Stephanie Izard: I had to buy some white noise headphones so I could catch up on sleep while traveling.  Also I would say I never used to have people shout out congrats at me from their cars while I am walking down the street.

Foodie Pam:  If you were lounging around home one weekend (hypothetically of course) and decided to cook dinner. What would some of the dishes be that you'd make? 

Stephanie Izard: At home I like to eat simple things like whole roasted chicken with veggies from the farmers market.  Or pop a suckling pig in the oven and have some friends over.  Yum that just made me hungry.

Foodie Pam:  Are there ingredients or foods that you like to cook with that the average home chef may not be familiar with and should definitely try?

Stephanie Izard: I use pretty simple foods for the most part.  Though I think a lot of home cooks shy away from scallops.  They are so wonderful when cooked properly.  All it takes is a hot pan and a little practice! 

Foodie Heather: I'm hosting a small dinner party in a couple of weeks; the guests are great eaters and are usually game for anything.  Do you have a foolproof menu or dish that you can recommend that is sure to be a big hit?

Stephanie Izard: I would say braised pork ragout.  It is so easy to braise seeing as you really can not overcook it.  Just serve it over some pasta and you are a hit!

Foodie Heather:  What is the one restaurant (anywhere in the world) that you are dying to go to?

Stephanie Izard: elBulli - probably a common answer, but it is supposed to be quite an experience.

Sweet Potato Puree with Blue Cheese and Brown Sugar Walnuts

Stephanie Izard

Serves 6-8

For the Sweet Potato Puree

  • 6 sweet potatoes (about 4 pounds), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • ½  cup plus 1/4 cup water
  • 4 ounces Maytag blue cheese, crumbled or cut into small chunks
  • 2 teaspoons Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

For the Brown Sugar Walnuts

  • 1 egg white
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 8 ounces (or 2 cups) walnut halves and pieces

Space two racks evenly apart in the oven and preheat to 350°F. Spread out the potatoes, garlic, and butter in a 13x 9-inch baking dish.  Pour the water over the potatoes and season with salt and pepper.  Cover the dish tightly with foil, transfer to the top rack in the oven and bake for one hour or until the potatoes are very soft.

While the potatoes cook, whisk the egg white in a medium-mixing bowl until frothy.  Add the sugar and salt and whisk again to combine.  Add the walnuts and stir to coat well.  Spread the nuts out on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper or a silicon liner, or use a non-stick baking sheet.  Transfer to the lower rack in the oven and bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove and gently mix the nuts around on the sheet pan, scraping the sugar from the bottom.  Let the nuts cool while the potatoes finish baking and then roughly chop them before serving.

When the potatoes are done, remove them from the oven and add the blue cheese. Transfer them in batches to a blender and puree until very smooth, adding the 1/4 of water as needed.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.  To serve, scoop the potatoes into a serving dish and top with chopped candied walnuts. 

Pear-Pistachio Soup

Stephanie Izard

Makes 1 1/2 quarts (Serves 4)

  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • ½ large onion, small dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 4 d’Anjou pears,peeled, cored and diced
  • 2 medium parsnips, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 small Yukon potato, peeled and diced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons Kosher Salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
  • 1 dried Thai bird chili, split in half and scraped of seeds
  • ¾ cup white wine
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped pistachios

Melt the butter in a large heavy-bottom soup pot over medium-low heat.  Add onion and garlic and sweat for 5 minutes, stirring often.  Stir in pears, parsnips and potatoes, and sweat until all the ingredients begin to soften, about 10 minutes more.  Season with the salt and pepper.  Add the wine, pistachios and chili.  Reduce the wine until almost gone.  Add the water, bring the liquid to a light boil, reduce the heat and simmer for an hour and a half.  Remove the soup from the heat.  In batches, carefully ladle the soup into a blender and blend until smooth.  (Place a towel over the lid of blender to prevent hot soup from splashing through the top)  Whisk in the heavy cream and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.  Ladle into bowls and garnish with finely chopped pistachios.



Mixologist: Sierra Zimei

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Written by Heather Jones   
Friday, 03 October 2008

ImageRemember the movie Cocktail with Tom Cruise? While all my friends wish they could have been Elisabeth Shue rolling around in the sand with Mr. Cruise, I was thinking about how cool it would have been to be able to toss a vodka bottle up in the air and catch it behind my back while pouring a new drink without missing a beat.  I have always had a huge amount of respect for Bartenders or Mixologists as they are known today.  Always a welcoming smile, cool and calm under pressure, great conversationalists, and more often than not know how to make your favorite drink.   

Bartending has really evolved; not only is it among of the top ways that young people put themselves through school - the “job before the real job”,  but it has also become an art form.  The art of mixology to be exact.  As with so many other culinary disciplines, mixology comes with its own innovators, experts, movers, shakers, and rising stars.  One such rising star is Sierra Zimei of the Four Seasons Hotel in San Francisco. She was recently voted “Best Mixologist” in the 2008 Readers’ Poll for San Francisco Magazine.  Sierra began bartending in the late 1990’s in London during a college study-abroad program.  Soon after she developed a love affair with the classic cocktail; a love affair that led her to continue bartending once she returned back to the states and eventually turned it into a career.  I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sierra about her career and some of the new trends in cocktails, here is what she had to say:

Foodie Heather: Tell me about your culinary journey? How did you get started in Mixology?

Sierra: I got started in bartending early in 1997 in London.  From there I continued bartending when I returned to San Francisco in 1998 to finish college at San Francisco State University.  It was when I moved to Washington, D.C. for graduate school that I really started to turn into a "mixologist" - when I was the head bartender during the opening of the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown.

ImageFoodie Heather: What is the hardest part of your Job?

Sierra: Honestly, the hardest part of my job is standing for 7-14 hours at a time.  Other than that, it's like I'm hosting a party every night!

Foodie Heather: Tell me about some of the new trends in cocktails and predictions for future trends?

Sierra: One of the new trends in cocktails is definitely using condiments in cocktails.  Seriously, look for drinks with ketchup, mustard, vinegar, etc.  I have a delicious drink at Seasons Bar with orange marmalade in it – The Trust Fund!

Foodie Heather: When people ask me what my favorite dish is I never have a direct response, I could never narrow it down to just one dish or one type of cuisine.  What about you, do you have a favorite drink?

Sierra: Since our moods are never the same, our taste buds shouldn't be craving the same thing all the time either.  I will always try a specialty cocktail if the place has them on the menu, but my old stand-by is usually champagne.

Foodie Heather: I have terrible short-term memory loss these days and can’t seem to remember even my favorite recipes (I blame it on having two kids under the age of 3).  Do you have a foolproof cocktail for me that I can serve at my next get together that even I won’t forget?

Sierra: The Pom Pom is pretty easy... 1 1/2 oz Chopin vodka, 3/4 oz fresh OJ, 1/2 oz Pama Liquor, 1/2 oz POM juice.  Easy and healthy!

Foodie Heather: What are your plans for continuing to bring the art of mixology to the masses, or at least the Bay Area, books, tv show, your own line of barware?

Sierra: Plans on world domination through cocktails?  Not really!  I would love to one day own my own successful lounge.  Maybe have a cute t-shirt for sale.  No huge plans for now... I love working at the Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco! Visit me anytime at Seasons Bar and try our latest specialty cocktails.

Thanks so much Sierra for taking the time to speak with us and next time I’m in San Francisco I will be sure to make the Four Seasons one of my first stops. Oh and we almost forgot here is the recipe for Sierra's fabulous cocktail featured in the photo above, "Frost Bite", Enjoy!

Frost Bite
2 oz. Ciroc Vodka
1 1/2 oz. White Cranberry Juice
3/4 oz. Inniskillin Ice Wine
Shake and strain into sugar rimmed glass
Sink 1/2 oz of Creme de Cassis
Serve with a side of frozen grapes



Pastry Chef Carlos Sanchez, Parcel 104

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Written by Backend   
Friday, 19 October 2007

ImageThe life of a pastry chef is very different from an executive chef.  Each night the pastry chef observes diners enjoying large scrumptious meals after which their highly tempting dessert menu is finally presented.  But who has room for those temptations after a large meal?  Some of us specifically save room for dessert because we know dessert is often the highlight of the meal, but many do not.  The result - the hard work and amazing creations of the Pastry chef is often overlooked while executive Chefs seem to get all of the glory.  Not today - today we explore the life of Pastry Chef Carlos Sanchez from Parcel 104 (Santa Clara, CA).  Recently selected as one of the top four pastry chefs in Silicon Valley, Chef Sanchez is known for his dessert sampling plates that present several small desserts to create a complete taste sensation.  

Chef Sanchez grew up in Columbia.  At 18, he planned on becoming an architect, but when an opportunity arose to go to Switzerland for a year to work in a hotel he accepted the position to earn some extra money.  Once in Switzerland, Chef Sanchez was initially delegated primarily to kitchen prep work at a station that so happened to be next to the pastry chef.  As he says "I never touched a plate. It was all prep work".  While not the most glorious job, Chef Sanchez made the best of it.  Growing up, Chef Sanchez says "My dad always taught me 'no matter what you are doing you have to do it right'.  While in my mind I was going back to be an architect I still did my best in the kitchen".   That hard work paid off.  At the end of the year he got the opportunity to stay another year in Europe.  During this time Chef Sanchez says "the pastry chef told me 'you have the talent, you have the touch'. In this business cooking is like an art; you have to have it in your blood. You do the best you could but if you don't have it in your blood you won't go anywhere".  Chef Sanchez has it as he says "in his blood" and after his second year in Europe he got an opportunity to go to New York to work.  As Chef Sanchez says "I never looked back and became a pastry chef".  In New York, Chef Sanchez had the good fortune to be mentored by Chef Hans Egg who, as he says, taught him "You have to have integrity for the business and integrity in life. You must have a lot of discipline, a goal, a plan for that goal and work hard for that plan".  Chef Egg also helped Sanchez attend the Culinary Institute of America where he was formally trained.

We asked Chef Sanchez how a pastry chef's daily life differs from an executive chef.  One important difference Chef Sanchez described was the amount of time spent in the kitchen.  As Sanchez says "what I see is they have a lot of paperwork; a lot of meetings; and sometimes they are missing being in the kitchen".  In contrast, Chef Sanchez spends the majority of his, often very long day, in the kitchen where he likes to be.  Arriving around 11am, Chef Sanchez begins his day reviewing what fruit came in for the day to determine his dessert menu.  He then begins prepping.  At 2pm, his five member team arrives to assist him with the remaining dessert preparation.  All of the preparation must be complete by 5:30pm when the restaurant opens and service begins.  After the restaurant closes and clean-up is complete, Chef Sanchez finally leaves at around 10:30pm resulting in days that typically span 12 hours in the kitchen.  While this is a lot of work, Chef Sanchez is upbeat and excited throughout this discussion and clearly enjoys what he is doing.  At home, Chef Sanchez relaxes with his family but he doesn't leave his chef life behind.  Each Wednesday he watches the latest episode of Top Chef that his wife records for him.  In fact, Chef Sanchez even applied to be a contestant on the third season of Top Chef.

ImageRecently, Chef Sanchez attended the Star Chef conference in New York City where Chef Sanchez says he observed "all these pastry chefs are using chemicals - to do different things".  When we asked what he though of this trend his response was emphatic:  "I am more organic, more to flavor, and use the real product - pure, pure fruit, pure flavor. I don't use stabilizers, not even pectin or anything at all like that".  In fact, it is this organic and seasonal approach that is one of the tenets of his cuisine along with the influences of his Latin American heritage and French culinary training.  An example of his cuisine is the recipe below for tapioca pudding which is currently part of one of his desserts samplers.  The sampler also includes his French toast, Chocolate cake, and Crème Brulee. Chef Sanchez is particularly known for his unusual French toast dessert.  As he describes it "The French Toast is made with very traditional classic brioche from France but then I add some cardamom and banana" which infuses his Latin American influences.

While it is said that first impressions make lasting impressions, Chef Sanchez's attention to detail and strong passion results in such amazing desserts that we're certain you'll find the final taste of your meal to make an equally strong impression of Pastry Chef Carlos Sanchez.  

Pastry Chef: Carlos H. Sanchez
Parcel 104 At The Santa Clara Marriott
2700 Mission College Boulevard
Santa Clara, Ca 95054

Tapioca Pudding

By Pastry Chef Carlos H. Sanchez, Parcel 104

  • 1 cup of small tapioca pearls
  • 1 ½ cup of sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • 1 gallon of milk (regular)

1. Bring ½ gallon of milk, vanilla bean and sugar to lukewarm temperature

2. Add tapioca pearls

3. Stir constantly, slowly add remainder of milk as needed

4. Tapioca becomes clear when it is finished cooking

Approximate time 1 hour


  • 14 egg yolks
  • 1 qt heavy cream
  • ½ vanilla bean
  • 1 cup sugar

1. In a bowl combine 14 egg yolks and 1 cup of heavy cream

2. In a sauce pan combine rest of heavy cream, vanilla bean, sugar and bring to boil

3. Temper hot mixture cream in to egg yolk.

To serve, add custard to the tapioca pearls and warm it.


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