Have you worked in restaurants besides as a chef?
I have worked every possible job in a kitchen short of executive chef. I started when I was thirteen as a dishwasher and worked my way up. In 2002 I got in a car accident which led me to stop working in commercial kitchens. After that I became pregnant with twins and from then on I just cooked at home as an army wife
You create a lot of your own recipes. That must be difficult—how do you do it?
Growing up in a military family and now being an army wife, I’ve always been surrounded by many different cultures. I tend to just listen and smell, really relying on my senses to pick up what is in a new dish and try to decode the flavors and ingredients. I absolutely love watching people cook and understanding the process of what is being used in a dish and why. Then I replicate it to the best of my ability and fine tune the recipe to exactly how I would like it.
When hosting a dinner party, what is your go to meal?
Braised short ribs, for a few reasons. First, they go with lots of different side dishes--potatoes, pasta, polenta, a vegetable--you can’t go wrong. Second, they always taste like the chef have spent time and money on them, when in reality it’s just seared some meat that braises for almost three hours. And last, they’re eater friendly, leaving my guests feeling full and indulgent. They’re rich and addictive.
What’s one tip you have to keeping your recipes feeling fresh and interesting?
I try to always be observing and learning. I watch travel shows to see what they’re eating in different regions and try to replicate that. Now that I have a really solid understanding how to compose a meal—like understanding the balance of acid, sweet, fat and heat—I can listen to something explain a dish and do a pretty good job of figuring out how to put it together. When it comes to my favorite dishes, I keep an eye out for new ideas I hear on TV and apply them in my home kitchen.
Sometimes cooking can be time consuming. How do you balance it?
I swear by my slow cooker. Crock pot meals are so simple and can last for a few days. My go-to is taking six pounds of pork and putting in the crockpot with Asian flavors. It always seems to last our family of four many different meals over two days.
Slow cookers are perfect when you don’t feel like spending a ton of time in the kitchen but also don’t want to short change family and friends. Throwing a bunch of stuff in and leaving for the day is so easy. If someone labors over a meal that they don’t want to be making, guests can taste that resentment. With a crock pot meal, everyone's happy and full.
What are the most important utensils to have in the kitchen?
A knife. A good expensive knife, meaning that it is sharp and well made. The price doesn’t necessarily have to be high, you just need it to be sharp. A knife is important because you can do anything with it. And your hands. Hands and a knife are two things you cannot cook without. And don’t be afraid to get a little messy in the kitchen!