Welcome to the first edition of Table Talk!
Every month I’ll be interviewing someone from the world of food and sharing it with you! You’ll get to meet Private Chefs, Restaurant Owners and Managers, Farmers, Gardeners, Professional Bakers, Cookbook authors, Caterers, Coffee Roasters, Fitness Experts, Food writers, Producers and more! There may even be a Celebrity Chef or two! (Hey, a girl has to dream, right?)
Our very first guest at the table is Private Chef Tracy Kontos. Tracy and I met a year ago when she was doing a “Follow That Chef” demo with the Gourmandise School at the Santa Monica Farmers Market. Since then, I’ve taken a cooking class from her (she taught me how to make homemade pasta!) and best of all, she has become a friend. She’s the founder of a great group of women called WILFS (Women In the Local Food Scene) and I’m very excited to share this interview with you! I hope you enjoy it!
Hi Tracy! Thanks for doing this. I know you’re busy and I appreciate your time. You are currently working as a Private Chef. What does that mean, exactly? What do you do for your clients?
“As a private chef, my job is do accommodate the food needs of the families I cook for. Some families prefer to have me prepare foods and stock up their fridge for the week, while others love to have family style dinners in their home….hmmm, currently I’m switching over to springtime/summer cooking which means I’m getting creative and using the great outdoors to pull together fabulous meals for my families. I love using the local and seasonal produce and when you add a grill to the mix it feels as though everything was grown in your backyard (even if it wasn’t)!”
That’s awesome! What does a typical day/week look like in the life of a Private Chef? I’m sure it varies, but what do you do?
“I’m up and at the markets by 8 am. I shop and select the best in-season goodness. Then I cook a plethora of goods and stock up my client’s home. After that I head over to my other client’s home and prepare dinner for their family. Also, I have many clients that hire me for private in-home cooking lessons.”
I’d love to talk to you about those in-home cooking classes later! Tell us how you got started in the food industry?
“Since I can remember, I’ve always cooked. However when I was a teen, I knew I wanted to pursue cooking. Unfortunately my parents, who had worked hard in the blue collared world, really discouraged me to head down that path. It wasn’t until many years later that I knew it was what I needed to do. Friends pushed me to try out for MasterChef. Luckily that experience literally catapulted me into the industry.”
That’s right! You were a finalist on Season Two of Master Chef! What was the best and worst thing about being on a reality TV show? And I have to know, are the judges the same in person, as they are on TV?
“Masterchef… hahahah!!!! Well the best thing was the people I met. Most of my fellow competitors became such close friends that I now I still regard them as family. Also, the show helped me make the transition from corporate sales to full-time chef. For that I will always be grateful. The worst thing is that it’s reality tv and most of the time you look at the edits and you recall something totally different. Let’s just say I rarely watch reality tv. The judges are way cooler in person and much more like-able. Graham is a riot, Joe is much warmer, and Gordon is just a witty-love… But in the kitchen, don’t be fooled…they’re all tough!”
That must have been quite an experience. Now that you are a full-time Chef, where do you find your recipes? Do you create them yourself? Cookbooks? Internet? Blogs?
“When it comes to recipes I’m the first to admit it…I’m lazy! I just love to get in the kitchen and cook so I reserve recipes use for complicated baking, cheese making, technical cooking elements etc.. I love looking at food magazines like F&W & Lucky Peach, Food Blogs: eehhhemmem “My Imperfect Kitchen” and Pinterest inspiration…. Probably my influence is eating at a new place and trying something unique from a fellow chef. It urges me to create.”
And I know you are very creative! I’ve seen your plating skills too. They just amaze me. If you could define your “cooking style” what would it be? Do you have a “signature dish?”
“My cooking style is California-Mediterranean and I am obsessively organic and local and sustainable. (So much so that I have become my own organic backyard urban farm which is doing really well at the moment.) My signature dish, hhhmmmm people tell me it’s fish. Most people tell me they love any sea creatures I cook, however I think of my Italian roots and I would have to say, I make a mean risotto. Not my signature dish per say, but seriously comforting.”
That sounds delicious. I’m available for dinner next time you make it. Ha! So, are there any foods you WON’T eat?
“I despise ketchup. That’s it though. I love tomato compote, but hate ketchup. Weird right?”
No, I don’t think that’s weird. I love grapes and grape jelly, but I can’t stand grape juice or anything else with a grape flavor. I think that’s weird. Tell me, who or what inspires you?
“I am utterly inspired and fueled by do-gooders and by people who create change for the greater good. I’m inspired by chefs on a personal level, with that said personally I love hearing stories of compassion and humility that end with someone’s life being changed for the better. It’s funny I recently heard Anthony Bourdain and Roy Choi speak. I’m a HUGE fan of Bourdain, but I was won over and left completely in awe of Roy Choi! He stole the show for me…. Heart of gold that man! When he spoke he was compassionate and mentioned trying to figure out how to create change in LA regarding feeding the homeless. That inspires me.”
Looking around my kitchen, I spy one or two things I know I use all the time and would be lost without. Is there one kitchen appliance/gadget you can’t live without?
My knife. Easy… you don’t get far without one!
That’s true! If I were to come to your house and look inside your pantry or fridge, what are three things would I be guaranteed to find? That being said, please don’t look inside either of mine, they’re a mess!
“Cheese, Veggies, Wine…. For sure.”
Do you have any advice for someone interested in becoming a Personal Chef?
“Realize that it’s different than being in a restaurant…as a private chef you are molding your style to their preferences. You don’t have the option of being sensitive if people dislike something. Instead you need to get cooking for something they do like. Be very open in communicating with your clients and take notes of their likes and dislikes so you don’t annoy them with the questions over and over again!”
Good advice! Last question for you Tracy, besides mine,(HA!) do you have a favorite food blog?
Lol!!! Ok, it’s not a food blog per say but it’s all about food… It’s a website with a blog and it highlight a biodynamic farm and the people that decided to start it. It’s a must for checking out: http://apricotlanefarms.com/blog</em>
After our talk, Tracy emailed me her amazing recipe for Veggie Burgers! Grilled Portabella Mushrooms with Zuchhini and Tomato Jam. So delicious! This recipe serves 10, so feel free to adjust the proportions for your family size! Just don’t adjust the Tomato Jam, you’re going to want all of that! Here it is:
Portabella Mushroom Veggie Burger/Recipe by Tracy Kontos
Ingredients & Prep:
10 Portabella Mushrooms with stems removed
1 medium zucchini, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
Olive Oil – for drizzling
Salt and pepper – to taste
Arugula and Micro-greens*: washed
Red Onion: Thinly sliced
Feta: Cut into slices ¼ inch or thinner
Tomato Jam (recipe below)
Cherry Tomato Jam: (approx. 10-12 servings)
1 pint of cherry tomatoes
1 tbsp. of sugar
7 springs of thyme
1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar
¼ cup olive oil
Preparation For Jam (can be made ahead):
-On sheet pan drizzle tomatoes with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, sugar, and 7 springs of thyme evenly distributed. Bake uncovered 350 degrees until tomatoes skin begins to burst (20-25 minutes).
-In vita-prep/food processor add tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, cup olive oil, additional sugar if needed, and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until most of the tomatoes are broken up and the consistency is similar to a smoother style salsa.
Preparation for Portabella:
-Preheat grill to 350 degrees
– Rub the cap with olive oil, drizzle with olive oil on underside of cap, sprinkle with salt and pepper.
-Add 3-4 sprigs of thyme into the cap. Grill mushroom until slightly darkened and the mushroom is tender enough that a fork will pierce through it easily, approx 20-25 minutes. Once removed from grill discard juices and then place portabellas on a plate, tent with foil, and set close to the grill to keep warm
Preparation for Zucchini
-Cut zucchini into ¼ inch rounds drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper, then grill until evenly golden but still firm approx. 1 minute on each side. Remove and place on plate, tent with foil, and set close to the grill to keep warm)
To assemble: Place the feta cheese inside the roll, followed by the grilled zucchini, grilled portabella, sliced red onion, then Tomato Jam. Top with arugula and/or micro-greens. Enjoy!
*Micro-greens are a fun addition to your meals! They can be found at specialty grocers (such as whole foods) in the pre-packed herb section.
Thank you Tracy!
Want to know more about Tracy? You can find her here: