What is your background?
Before joining Westin Chicago Lombard, I was the Chicago Bears’ Executive Chef at the Chicago Bears Halas Hall training facility in Lake Forest. I prepared daily food for football players, coaches, scouts, and front office staff. I used my culinary skills and hospitality experience uniquely.
Before my current position, I was the Executive Chef at the Hyatt Lodge in Oak Brook. I managed culinary and stewarding operations for the two restaurants, the expansive banquet area, and more.
I also pioneered the farm-to-table movement and redefined regional American cuisine in Chicago as Executive Chef and creator of Prairie Restaurant. In fact, I wrote the popular cookbook Prairie: Cuisine from the Heartland.
I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and received an A.O.S. in Culinary Arts. I received the Richard L. King Award from the Culinary Institute of America for the student “voted most likely to succeed.”
Why did you become a chef?
I started cooking when I was only 13 and worked at a local seafood restaurant near our summer home in Maine. During that time, I learned how much food inspired me and how much I was passionate about it.
Every day, you can learn something new about food, whether it’s a new cuisine, dish, or cooking method. Having the opportunity to create memorable dining experiences and connect with people through the power of food is what makes working as a chef so rewarding.
What are three kitchen tools you cannot do without?
I use my chef’s knife the most. I love its handle. It’s well-balanced and versatile enough to chop, slice, and make fine cuts. The microplane is my second favorite kitchen tool. The grater can be used to finely grate garlic, ginger, citrus zest, and cheese. Finally, stainless-steel kitchen tongs are indispensable to me. I use them to move pans around the stove, grill meats and vegetables, and execute that last twirl of pasta on the plate just before it goes out.
Is there a chef you admire?
Julia Child introduced classic French cuisine to the American public. She provided helpful tips and advice on cooking French food. I met Julia years ago at a food and wine event we both attended in California. She was very friendly and cheerful. She changed Americans’ minds about food and encouraged more women to become chefs.
Any industry trends you are seeing?
My culinary identity is characterized by seasonal and local food, and I am excited to incorporate this at the Westin Chicago Lombard. I prepare well-balanced menus emphasizing natural foods that use leaner and healthier cooking techniques. My cooking style is dependent on fresh, local, seasonal, and sustainable ingredients.
The demand is higher than ever for properly prepared, healthy, and nutritious foods. In addition, vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and organic options are quite common, and the chef must consider them. Increasingly, people are willing to try new foods and flavors, so globally inspired dishes are on the rise. And, of course, comfort foods never go out of style and offer a nostalgic and familiar experience. ■