From very early in my life I can remember cooking for myself. I am sad to say that my parents were divorced before I was 4 and my mother had to work nights. We had a great live in baby-sitter for a number of years though. Bobbie, my baby sitter (yes, we’re still in touch, how I love social media!) always tells me the story of when she first moved in. She woke up one morning, went to the kitchen and much to her surprise there I was with a chair pulled up to the stove cooking eggs. When she asked me what I was doing I replied simply that I was making myself scrambled eggs and that my mommy lets me. I think I must have been around 4 when this happened. This always makes me laugh because even then I loved to cook. I guess from then on she must have let me have free reign over the kitchen because I remember practicing my “cooking techniques” – a lot. The one rule in the kitchen that I had to follow was, clean up after yourself. Fair enough!
As I got older, I started learning to cook with my Grandma. She would let me sit by the stove and stir the pots. She showed me how to make and roll bisquits and pie crust. I eventually graduated to her cookie recipes, then cakes and then the prized secret family recipes. I knew I was on the right path when she shared the family dinner roll recipe, now passed down through 5 generations!
Bobbie moved out when I was around 8 making my much older brother and sister my babysitters. My older sister Julie, who is now one of my two best friends in the whole wide world, usually would be out the door shortly after my mother left for work and my brother, Kevin, would either take me along with him to U.S.A. Skateland or I would get left at home alone. It’s funny now, but at the time I was convinced the place we lived in was haunted and I would call my Grandma crying and begging her to come and get me. She would calm me down by talking to me about cooking and I would write her recipies down on my teddy bear shaped notepad. We would get off the phone and I, with every light on in the house, would commence cooking. I burned more cookies then I can count, but cooking was my comfort when I was home alone and scared.
When I was 11, my mother remarried and my sister moved in with my Grandma. After that we did a lot of moving around. By the time I was 14 we had moved from Ohio to New Jersey to Southern Florida to Northern Florida, to Texas and finally to Los Angeles. I would fly back to Ohio each summer and stay with my Dad who I hated being away from (no more weekend visits). My stepfather and I never got along, we’ll leave it at that for now. I did learn a few good things from him though, like proper table manners and how to read a road map. He was also the first one to take me to a really nice restaurant (at the top of the Twin Towers in New York). My brother moved out when I was 12 and I moved back to Ohio to live with my sister when I was 14. My sister, 20 at the time with a husband and baby, did her best to take care of me. They didn’t have a lot of money and I learned a lot about eating on a budget, and also to my teenage dismay, a lot about babies as I shared a room with my 1 year old nephew.
The summer after 8th grade, I stayed with my mom. She knew a guy who had a seafood restaurant and I got my first job -bussing tables. I loved it! I thought it was so cool to see the cook’s in the kitchen. I was absolutely amazed at how fast they were. From then on I had a fun new game to play in the kitchen. Every time I would cook something, I would time myself and the next time I cooked it, I would try to beat my own time. At the end of the summer I went back to my sister’s and back to school.
As soon as I turned 15 I got my work permit and got my first official cooking job – in a fast food restaurant. I really enjoyed “flippin’ burgers”. It was fast paced, like my game and was I working with a bunch of other teenagers. I spent my teen years working my way through 3 different fast food chains, going to High School, and then some college.
At the age of 20, I moved to South Florida and continued working in hospitality in various positions. I think I can safely say that I have had just about every job you can in a restaurant. When I was 24, I met my beautiful husband Xavier and, after a few years, we moved to Phoenix together to be close to his family. I immediately enrolled into Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale (then called Scottsdale Culinary Institute/ Le Cordon Bleu). A satellite school of the one in Paris. I can’t explain the bliss I was in finally living out my childhood dream and becoming a chef! I practically floated to school on clouds everyday. I could not wait to get into the classroom and learn. One day, while I was still in school, I went to this local wine bar called Wine Concepts looking for a nice bottle of red wine. It was early in the day and the owner happened to be there. He and I got to talking and I ended up with my first job as a chef! It was a small place with maybe 35 seats and a small menu. Mark, the owner, was great. He let me completely redo the menu and cook what I wanted. He also taught me so much about wine and more importantly made me fall in love with it. I learned all about how wine effects food and how to properly pair the two.
For my externship, I earned a job at Elements in the Sanctuary Resort as a pantry cook. I had the great privilege of working under Chef Charles Wiley, and Chef Beau McMillian. They were both wonderful to work for and I learned so much there. Soon graduation day came. I graduated Alpha Beta Kappa and with perfect attendance (no way I was missing one minute). I continued to work at Elements for awhile and then was offered a job working with my newfound second passion (wine).
After I left Elements, I was given a job as a wine buyer at a wine bar in The Biltmore in Scottsdale, AZ. This job basically entailed my sitting with wine distributors and tasting and learning about wines a few times a week. The rest of the week I had a few wonderful responsibilities. I would educate the servers about any new wines. I would walk around and talk to customers about the wines they were drinking and I would give them recommendations and samples. The best part was, again, furthering my own education with the wine and of course getting paid to drink wine!
One day I was explaining to a customer what malolactic fermentation is and she asked me to come and apply at a pizzeria she managed. I went and checked it out that weekend (never miss an opportunity). It was actually a very cool and hip little place called Le Grande Orange. It is a pizzeria on one side, a gourmet market on the other side and they have a wine bar in the back. They had the music cranked up and the windows open. The place was full of energy and I couldn’t resist. I was hired as one of their managers. One of the cool things they offered their guests was an amazing cheese selection. The cheese buyer went on maternity leave and I jumped at the opportunity to take over some of her duties. I spent 3 monthes learning everything I could about cheese. Again, I was in pure bliss!
I thought nothing would make me leave my job at Le Grande until one day, I got a phone call. A friend of a friend wanted to open a restaurant and was looking for a chef and a general manager. PERFECT! My husband (Xavier) went to NAU for hotel restaurant management, and I, obviously am a chef. We had a meeting and made a deal that we would set up and run the restaurant in exchange for partial ownership. WE HAD A RESTAURANT!!! AHHHH! VERY EXCITING! I got to build the kitchen completely from the ground up and write the menu and every recipe. The catch was that he wanted it open in 3 months. This is an amazing task to accomplish. My husband and I worked diligently Monday through Saturday from 7am to midnight, every week for 3 monthes. And at the end, there it was, our beautiful restaurant, open for business. We worked there side by side, living out our dream!
Once again, I thought nothing would ever make me leave until one night, my Xavier and I had a conversation. We decided to have more children (our others were getting big, (ages 8, 10 and 12 at the time)) and we wanted a baby in the house. So, here we are 4 and a half years later. Happy, with 5 beautiful children, each other, and now, my new found passion, writing about food!