7 Questions

7 Questions with Leah Stewart

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know.

Last month I was invited to a taping of a series called “Aha Moments” by Mutual of Omaha.  That’s right the Wild Kingdom people.  As those of you who have seen my segment know it went well and I was able to share my story of being a Wannabe TV Chef with the country.  After the clip was posted to “the youtube” I watched a few of the other interviewees.

Leah Stewart owner of the Olive BranchI was struck by one in particular, a restauranteur from Waco, Texas named Leah Stewart.  Stewart (no relation) is the owner of The Olive Branch Bakery & Cafe.  The Olive Branch is a comfortable place for fellowship: a meal with friends or co-workers, a power breakfast meeting, or a dessert-and-coffee date right in downtown Waco.  It has been one of the “it” places in the city since it opened in 2003.

One of the things that struck me about Stewart was her devotion to her family.  Her mother, especially, is very active in her business.  That’s a side of America that we’ve lost over the decades and it is always nice to see someone who bridges the hominess of yesteryear with the modern lifestyle of the 21st Century.

Leah also dabbles in food blogging on her site To Taste which incidentally is also the name of her cookbook.  In a moment you’ll get a chance to view Leah’s Aha Moment but first she answers 7 Questions:

1. How old were you when you first started to cook?

Oh, that’s a good question.  I’d say I was in high school.

2. What is it about the hospitality industry that inspires you?

I love working with people and I love getting to be apart of big events in their lives.  I think that that’s really fun.  I really enjoy being “that place” people want to come for birthdays.  Or being the one that you get your kid’s birthday cake from every year and people bring in pictures of their kids as they grow.  It’s exciting to be apart of the community that way.

3. How did you decide on the name The Olive Branch for your cafe?

I get the name The Olive Branch directly out of the story of Noah.  I’ve always loved that story; it’s probably my favorite Bible story.  The dove returning with the olive branch was the first sign that he wasn’t crazy and they were actually going to get off the boat.

4. How would you describe the cuisine on the menu at The Olive Branch?

We’re an American bakery/cafe.  We bake all of our own breads, all of our own pastas, our pasta sauces.  We make all of our own desserts.  We make our own dressings.  We do soups, salads, quiches.  We’re open breakfast and lunch.  We do as much from scratch as we can.

5. It appears that you take coffee very seriously, why such attention to detail?

I actually got into the food industry as a assistant manager at a coffee house here in Waco.  I was a manager there for six years and all we did was coffee so I had a lot of training as a barista, a lot of interaction with coffee companies.  I’ve been to coffee plantations so I’ve seen to process from start to finish and I find that process fascinating.  I want it to be an experience and I want to enjoy it.  I don’t want to drink a product just to be drinking it I want it to be good.

We’ve got our own espresso bar.  We have four different kinds of drip coffee that we do.  We created our own coffee blend.

6. What part does your family play in the day-to-day operations of the cafe?

My parents and sister are investors and they certainly are always willing to help.  My mother and I always laugh because for the past eight years Mother’s Day has always been her at the restaurant washing dishes with me.  They’re always willing to come up and help on a busy weekend.  Or if I get to take some time off my mom usually comes up and takes my place here at the restaurant.

7. What’s next for Leah Stewart?

That’s a really big question there.  Honestly I think growing this business and doing the best I can with the business I have here. We’re in our third location, we’ve been open for eight years, this location we have  has so many more possibilities than I’ve had before.  I’m really enjoying the possibilities of what I can do here and how far I can go with the Olive Branch just where it is.  I really love writing recipes.  I’ve got a cookbook, too.  I’m trying to stay open and see what the next avenue is.

7 Questions with Sheri Chen

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know.

When you are the mother of a very picky two-year-old how do you know when you’ve struck the right balance between satisfying your child’s nutritional needs and making food they will actually eat?  When the New York Times does a story about you, that’s when.

Sheri Chen of Happy Little BentoThat’s what happened to Sheri Chen when she began using the quaint Japanese custom of packing a well balanced lunch in artfully crafted packages known as Obentos (Bento boxes).  Chen disguised her healthy vittles with kid-friendly shapes like bunnies and kittens and her formerly finicky youngling began gobbling up her cherry tomatoes, broccoli and boiled eggs.

It went over so well that this stay-at-home-mother began sharing her ideas via her popular blog Happy Little Bento.  The blog includes instructions and a plethora of photos of what can only be described as happy little bento.  Soon came guest appearances on the Cooking Channel, PureNaturalDiva.com, TheKitchn.com and Glamour Magazine.

At the bottom of this post there is a gallery of some of Sheri’s creative Bento but first she answers 7 Questions:

1. For those unfamiliar with the term, what is a Bento?

A bento is loosely defined as a meal packed inside a box. Originating in Japan, this lunch style has been adopted worldwide; the traditional foods easily replaced by other cultural options. In addition to being convenient, a bento lunch is an excellent way to ensure a balanced meal with the additional bonus of being visually pleasing. The style of bento can range from a time-consuming artistic creation depicting real animals and character (charaben) to a standard colorful array anyone might put together in a few minutes.

2. What is it about Bento that makes them so appealing?

Kids and adults alike appreciate an appetizing meal. Not only does a bento box allow one to present a complete meal all at once, this type of display encourages one to use attractive and varied colors (fruits, veg, protein, carb), which results in a nutritious meal. If your food looks delicious and lovely, you’re more likely to feel excited about eating it, and kids especially become adventurous and more willing to finish. It’s an act of love to take the time and effort to choose and arrange food in a thoughtful manner for someone to enjoy. I really believe in the power of bento to encourage a lifestyle of healthy eating habits and enjoyment of food, as well as the bonding it fosters between parent and child.

3. What was the inspiration for starting your blog, Happy Little Bento?

For years I had been happily packing bento for my kids and going along my merry way. I actually used to keep a handwritten diary of what I fed my son each day since he started on solid food until I realized I could simply take a picture and keep an online photo diary. The day I posted my first picture and received my first comment, I discovered a whole new network of friends with similar interests. It seemed natural to start the blog and make it easier to maintain the connections with other parents. Since then I’ve found that it also serves to bring new people to bento, which has been one of the biggest thrills of my blogging life.

4. You have been featured in the New York Times and on the Cooking Channel.  Are you surprised by the attention your blog has attracted?

When I started I certainly never expected to attract any special attention; my main goal was a personal reference for future bento planning. In the past few years I’ve witnessed a huge growth in the bento-making community of parents, and they want to learn more for the benefit of their children. I’m very fortunate to be a part of this movement gaining wide popularity and it makes me very excited to help bring attention to bento.

5. What do your kids think of all this?

My second-grade boy likes to act pretty cool about it while my 4 year old daughter likes to talk about it to her friends and teachers. They’ve both shared their photo session experiences at school. She loves the spotlight so all the attention is right up her alley. They’ve grown up with bento all their lives so it’s nice that they get to take part in sharing it with others.

6. Do your readers ever share their ideas with you?

I hear from parents all over the world who tell me that they’ve become inspired to pack bento for their kids when they see how easy it looks, or that their kids see the photos and ask to bring one to school. Usually they ask questions but sometimes they tell me about how they’ve used bento to successfully transform their kids’ mealtimes. I love those emails because they inspire me to continue sharing my experience and to strive to improve my efforts with my own bentomaking.

7. Are their any plans for a book based on your blog?

Not at the moment but I’m open for the next challenge!
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7 Questions with NFNS’s Howie Drummond

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know.

So as we get set to start the biggest Next Food Network Star to date (15 competitors!) I invite you to introduce yourself to all the contestants (HERE) starting by getting a little more intimate look at NFNS 7 cast member Howie Drummond.

Before getting called up to the big leagues, Drummond did a local cooking show called Food Ink where he went through his old family recipes while showing off his tattoos.  Somebody sent a clip to one of the casting directors and before long he was asked to do an audition.  His current project is a new show called Grill vs. Grill, a pilot series being shopped to the Travel Channel and TLC, both of whom are interested.

In Grill vs. Grill Howie visits two different backyard cooks in Wyoming, Colorado or New Mexico as they demonstrate their favorite outdoor recipes.  At the end of the show each contestant prepares those recipes for a panel of three judges who chose the winner.  The season finale is a cook-off between each of the eight winners with the overall winner taking home cash and prizes.  Currently it is a regional broadcast but you can check it out at HowieDrummond.com or watch the episode embedded at the bottom of this post.

But first Howie Drummond answers 7 Questions:

1. How old were you when you first started to cook?

Howie Drummond Next Food Network StarThe first memory I have of cooking was in my grandmother’s house cooking her pasta sauce for making lasagna.  I think I was probably about ten.  That’s what really got me addicted.  I remember preparing that meal and my grandmother was making a big todu about how I made the sauce and everybody that was eating it loved it and they were making a big todu about it.  From that point making it and seeing how much people loved and the accolades I was receiving for doing it that just completely had me hooked on feeding people.

2. You’re a radio host on Alice 105.9 FM in Denver.  How’d you get that job?

I actually started in radio kind of the same way that I got the Food Network thing.  I competed for a job in Colorado Springs 16 years ago.  I was driving to work as a cook starting a tapas restaurant.  I wasn’t really happy with the situation I was in and I heard an ad on the radio about they were looking for a mourning radio intern.  It didn’t pay anything but I had always been obsessed with radio my whole life.  So when I got to work I made a phone call to them and a couple days later they said hey, we want you to come down along with 75 other people and compete for this morning show job.  Long story short, at the end of the day I was the guy that was left standing.  I quit my job and worked for free for the radio station in Colorado Springs for six months and that’s how I started my radio career.  I’ve been in Colorado Springs, I did a show in Cincinatti, Ohio for a year and now I’m back in Denver where I’ve been doing the BJ, Howie & Erica show for the past seven years.

I’m doing “Meals in a Minute” on the radio show now.

3. Do you think your experience in broadcasting gives you any advantage over the other competitors?

You know it’s hard to tell.  It all comes down to the judges and what they think.  I like to think it gives me an edge but at the same time being on the radio kind of has a stigma that comes with it.  People figure that you’re always trying to crack jokes and you’re always one and you’re doing schtick.  Some people only see that and some people get it.  I try to be myself on the radio just like I try to be myself on the Next Food Network Star.  It ultimately comes down to whether the judges think it gives me an advantage or not.

4. Each year it seems that someone makes the show without having ever seen it.  Are you “that guy?”

No, no I’ve seen the show a few times.  And once I accepted the deal for the show there was a marathon on of last season, season six so I got to watch a lot of that.   However, it didn’t really work out as groovy for me as I thought.  I was expecting it to be like that show and this season is completely different.  So I really thought I had a good idea of where I wanted to go and how I was going to do things.  Once we started filming season 7 I quickly found out that none of that stuff is going to be helpful.

5. What should viewers expect from you on the show?

A little lightheartedness, I like to joke around, kid around.  I’m not really sure how most people in the past really took me because I do like to joke around a lot. You know, you get to know people rally well when you’re working 20 hours a day, living in the same house you’re on the fast track of friend and foe whatever side of the fence you fall on.  I think people are just going to see an honest guy who has an opportunity to do something that he loves to do.  It’s going to be honest and kind of raw and there’s going to be some good stuff and some bad stuff just like with everybody else.  Hopefully they enjoy and they take away that Howie Drummond has something to offer, something interesting for them to watch.

6. Can you tease us with anything from the upcoming season?

Hmm, anything I can tease you with?  Let me think about that for a second.  I think that this season, compared to what I’ve seen, it’s a whole other level.  The people that are involved, the actual Food Network Stars that are involved with the show, the celebrities that are a part of the show is really cool.  The place that we’re staying is going to be awsome.  There’s 15 people this year which is the most that there’s ever been so I think maybe if I could tease you with one thing it’s that because there are so many people the eliminations are a lot more frequent.

7. What emotions did you experience that very first moment on set?
Wheh!  I think that I was nervous more so than I thought.  You know being in radio and doing a TV show I thought it was going to be a piece of cake.  I was more nervous than I expected, excited, a little scared, intimidated.  And I felt completely lucky and blessed to be there if that makes any sense, Stuart, it’s kind of like all those emotions wrapped in one.  I would go into peeks and valleys of nervous and scared to I don’t belong here.  Once you actually get there, you most of the people that were on there had tried five, six, seven times before finally getting picked for this one.  I tried once and they picked so I think going in I thought it was going to be a lot easier for me than it actually turned out to be.  So like I said when I got there and the reality set in that I was a part of this, that this was a huge opportunity it was a little overwhelming to say the least.

You may want to go ahead and bookmark my NFNS 7 archive (HERE) so that you can keep up to date with everything that happens this season as it happens from the point of view of a genuine Wannabe TV Chef.  Check out my exit interview with Howie HERE.

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7 Questions with Zuzy Martin Lynch

7 Questions is a series of interviews with the culinary movers and shakers you want or ought to know better.

cooking for the cluelessCooking for the Clueless is a web site for all of those folks who realized that they hit the big 3-0 without ever learning how to cook.  It was started by the bi-coastal couple of Zuzy Martin Lynch and Rick Lynch.  Rick is a California guy who grew up living the hipster West Coast lifestyle which included eating out a lot.  The same was true for Zuzy who grew up in the glamor of the East Coast where dining out is as common to New Yorkers as breathing.  But somewhere along the way neither learned their way around the kitchen.

According to the web site, “Cooking for the Clueless was born in our living room after realizing that we had a storage full of kitchen gadgets, appliances, and registry must-haves that we didn’t know how to use.”  The site features cooking tips and videos, recipes, a team of chefs and food writers that provide expert advice on everything from special diets to supermarket shopping strategies.

The web site soon produced a DVD also entitled Cooking for the Clueless that has been described as a must-have for anyone looking to tackle the kitchen.  The DVD is available on their site and at amazon.com (HERE).  It has received a lot of accolades including winning a coveted Tasty Award for best DVD in 2010.  High praise indeed.

Recently Zuzy Martin Lynch was kind enough to answer 7 Questions:

1. How old were you when you first started to cook?

Zuzy Martin Lynch of Cooking for the CluelessHmmm. This is an embarrassing one, but then again, I am the founder of “Cooking for the Clueless” so the real answer is: late, too late. I learned how to entertain at a very early age. I learned how to eat out very young too. Learning how to cook came late, in my thirties!

2. What was the inspiration for “Cooking for the Clueless?”

My husband and I grew tired of eating out every night because we didn’t know how to cook. One day after realizing that eating out everyday was exhausting and expensive, we decided to get help and help others in our boat (about half of America)!

3. Who would you say has influenced you the most?

My grandmothers, have by far, been the biggest influence on who I am. This includes good and bad habits. LOL. So, I have good old-fashioned values and I’m super nurturing, but I never knew how to cook because they spoiled me instead of teaching me how to cook. Ok, so now that I’m an adult, I won’t blame poor grandmas (God bless them), but they did take part in making me “clueless.”

4. If you hadn’t followed this career path, what other career could you see yourself in?

Journalism. Most definitely. I love asking questions and understanding the world through the stories and experiences of others.

5. What’s the highlight of your career so far?

The highlight of my Cooking for the Clueless career has been appearing on some fun morning shows, winning a Tasty Award and meeting my favorite TV chefs in person including Fabio Viviani of Top Chef!

6. What has winning a Tasty Award meant to you?

I love my Tasty Award! It has been great being recognized for admitting that I was clueless in the kitchen and trying to help the millions of America who are most definitely in the same boat. I also love how the Tastys bring all the foodie peeps together in one place – they are so much fun!

7. What’s next for Zuzy Martin Lynch?

This spring (TODAY), we’re launching Fridays with Fabio where I interview chef Fabio Viviani of Top Chef during a weekly series – asking him anything we want to know. My dream is to bring Cooking for the Clueless to more people  – exposing them not only to the kitchen, but to cultures, customs and foods from around the world.

Fridays with Fabio:

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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