People often ask me what do I cook at home? I'm a chef, so you might think that I cook elaborate dinners for my family, such as bouillabaisse—a classic Provençal seafood stew is loaded with clams, lobster, and fish in a broth delicately flavored with fennel and Pernod, a licorice-flavored aperitif. Perhaps you're fantasizing about me whipping up a Paella Valenciana—a rice dish that originated in Spain's Valencian region and is made with Calasparra rice, chicken, rabbit, beans, rosemary, artichoke, tomatoes, smoked paprika, saffron, garlic, salt, olive oil, and water. Cooking these fancy dishes at home; however, is not the life of the chef.
Many of my chef friends consider heating up hot dogs or microwaving popcorn as cooking at home. More than that can be too much for them. Our daily job is standing in front of hot stoves and ovens and cooking for eight to ten hours. There is no reason for us to slave away in the kitchen for another four hours to cook dinner. NO REASON!
If there is a spectrum for how much cooking a chef does at home, I am not on the microwaving popcorn end of the spectrum. Even though I don't cook elaborate dishes, I do cook daily for my family. I just keep it simple. One-pot dinners are my go-to. Two-pots—maximum.
I cook for my family because my philosophy is to lead by example. Since I believe in-home cooking promotes a healthy lifestyle, I have to live the lifestyle I promote. And since I cook with my clients, and they deserve good food and good company, I think my children and I deserve it too! An added bonus of cooking for myself, friends and family, as opposed to clients, is I have more room to improvise, and I don't have to worry if I "screw up."
So, what do I cook at home? I cook something simple based on what's seasonal and what's available in my fridge—or my friend's fridge, depending on where I go.
A couple of weeks ago, I was at my friend Angie's house. She hosted a playdate for my daughter, Amber, and her son, Issac. We didn't fully communicate what we should cook in the evening until I got there around five o'clock, so the situation was a bit complicated: two mommies with three hungry children and one hungry husband. We had no choice but play the "everything but kitchen sink" game. We pulled out whatever was left in the fridge, and thought about what we could cook. Angie happened to have smoked salmon, eggs, feta cheese, arugula, strawberries, and walnuts. She also had pantry items such as flour, yeast, butter, sugar, and cinnamon. We decided to do a "breakfast dinner" theme. We made a smoked salmon frittata and cinnamon sugar monkey bread.
Because it is strawberry season, we made a strawberry arugula salad. We made homemade salad dressing with fresh lemon juice and smoked Spanish EVOO. It was a simple and delicious salad.
Angie's husband is a beer fan. I am not a beer person but recently fell in love with Ever Weisse—a mixed fermentation sour ale aged with kiwis, strawberries, and hibiscus. I would describe this ale as the baby of beer and rosé. It's magical, light, and fruit forward. I couldn't stop drinking it once I took the first sip. It pairs extremely well with the strawberry arugula salad.
Strawberry Arugula Salad
- 1/2 pint strawberries rinsed, hulled, and quartered
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons Oak Smoked Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- 2 bunches arugula washed, dried, and trimmed
- 1/2 cup toasted walnut halves
- 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
- In a small bowl, whisk together one tablespoon lemon juice with the olive oil and salt and pepper.
- To the strawberries, add vinaigrette, arugula, feta cheese, and toasted walnut halves. Toss to combine and serve.
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Melissa is 100% MIT (Made in Taiwan), where she worked as a food writer. She’s also worked alongside renowned chefs like Ming Tsai and Joanne Chang, honing her craft and gathering stories along the way. Part story-teller, part educator, and part food lover, Melissa brings a special blend of experience, skill, and enthusiasm to her work. She blends her Asian background, her new home of New England, and love of food and culture to bring joy, optimism, and inspiration to food lovers and fun-seekers everywhere.
What sparked your passion for the industry?
The desire to make things by hand. The joy of sharing delicious, hearty food with students. The opportunity for people to get connected via cooking and baking. When a child smiled broadly and told me it’s the best scone he has ever made and eaten, it really made my day!
In your opinion, what’s the most important course?
Well, I usually take a peek at the wine list first. I like tapas style, so the course doesn’t really matter. Cheese and charcuterie are always a good place to start. And since I’m a pastry chef, there is always room for dessert!
Bill Gates is picking up your tab, where would you go?