While we love inundating your Instagram feeds with daily doses of food porn, we are firm believers that you should know the people behind your food as well as where it is coming from. Our 12 Days of Chefmas series seeks to introduce you to the faces behind some of your favorite restaurants and brands. Follow along for the next 12 days as we help you get to know these talented humans a little better.
How you got started in the kitchen:
I'm a recovering actress. While I was in rehearsals and auditioning when I first started working in the front of the house. My first job was as a hostess at Miramar, which used to be at the Inn at National Hall in Westport. I had the whole little lobby to myself. Most of my time was spent reading Harry Potter or practicing for West Side Story (brag, I was Maria!). I was terrified of the kitchen staff.
I made the switch to the kitchen after realizing I didn't want a career in theater. A brief stint doing wardrobe for the Jerry Springer Show reminded me that I loved and missed the restaurant industry. I still NEEDED to be creative so decided to see if I could hang in the back of house.
Tim LaBant took a chance on me and hired me as Garde Manger/Pastry Assistant at the Schoolhouse at Cannondale. At the time I didn't have any real interest in desserts, but the then pastry chef, Jessie Fila, sparked my interest and taught me an incredible amount. In Paul Liebrants kitchen at Corton in NYC, I learned to ignore preconceived flavor barriers. Pastry work is a true marriage of art and science, and Bill Taibe has really given me an incredible opportunity here to flourish and develop as both a chef and an artist. He, along with the talented team at both the Whelk and Kawa Ni, have helped guide, refine, and focus my food.
Favorite ingredient to work with:
Ummm... can I say salt? Because of my background, I use way more "savory" ingredients than most pastry chefs. Japanese mayo, kombu, pepper, candied olives, burned eggplant, charred everything. I like pairing classic flavors from childhood with the unexpected hook. Twisted nostalgia. So maybe surprise is my favorite ingredient.
Favorite item on your menu:
At Kawa Ni the pineapple shaved ice. It is a tower of texture; crisped rice paper, Yuzu meringue, pineapple granita, coconut snow and maple syrup. It's like funnel cake meets a piña-colada... except ethereally light (and gluten and dairy free, and nut free by request).
At The Whelk it's the chestnut chiffon cake with bourbon charred reconstituted cherries and an almond speculoos sauce. It tastes like a winter holiday.
While not part of our restaurant group, I've also been consulting at Washington Prime to revamp their dessert program. My favorite? The bananas foster cake. The cake itself is my great grandma's recipe, layered with fluffy banana mousse, vanilla crême anglaise, and "'nilla" cookie crunch. Think Jay-Zs grandma's banana pudding on crack (which he may or may not have sold.)
Favorite holiday dish to eat or cook:
Chicken matzoh ball soup. I know not the holiday at hand, but nothing says Jewish Christmas like Chinese food and a movie.
Restaurant in Connecticut that you're dying to try:
I really want to get up to Millwrights. I've heard great things all around, but I want to check out Kristen Eddy's work specifically. Maybe on the way back from skiing! Also The Cottage for dinner. I've had two amazing brunches, but gotta get in for the whole shebang.
Funniest kitchen story:
At The Whelk we used to have this guy named "Kevin." Kevin's English may not have been great, but his comedic timing...flawless. A guy came in one night to ask for directions to a local dive, and after I answered, Kevin chimes in "You ask the right girl. She know every bar in town." Of course I turn bright red and everyone else just about peed their pants laughing.