I have always loved food. Luckily for me, I’ve been able to turn this love of food into a career in cooking, and have spent the last fifteen years sharing this passion with friends, students, co-workers, and now television viewers.
The Early Years
I come from a long line of eaters. As soon as my family digs into one meal, we’re thinking about what we’re going to have for the next. It’s been that way since I can remember, and I’m not breaking the chain! It was probably my love of eating that led me to becoming a cook.
When I was little, my Mum, who was and is a great cook, would have me do the jobs she didn’t like doing – mixing the hamburger meat and other gooey things that required your hands getting dirty. It wasn’t until I reached culinary school that I realized how much she had already taught me in the kitchen, from how to properly chop an onion to how to use fresh herbs.
We used to eat all kinds of foods when I was growing up. My Dad was from Trinidad so my Mum learned how to make a lot of West Indian foods, like curries, stewed chicken and rice, and my favorite salt cod fritters. My Mum was from England originally, however, so we also had the traditional British meals and because my Mum was a good and enthusiastic cook, whatever else she decided to whip up. I ate it all!
Early on, Indian cuisine became my favorite out-to-dinner treat. I was an adventurous eater as a kid, and eating was an event every day. We always sat down for dinner as a family. No exceptions. I still think that’s important.
These days I don’t plan too many meals beyond a day or two away, but I always have a meal on my mind. (I’m thinking about one right now as I write this!)
I began my food career as a baker and caterer for a small independent bistro in Canada called Bistro Delight. This gave me a little taste of the industry, which was all I needed to realize that I truly wanted to pursue a culinary career. So, after graduating from university with a degree in English and History, I enrolled in culinary school. I figured that cooking was not only a road toward enjoying food myself, but was also something that made people happy and I could do anywhere in the world.
The New England Culinary Institute was two years of intense learning and I loved it! The hours were sometimes grueling and the work was hard, but it was the launching pad for me to work in France at two restaurants and to land a job in San Francisco at the well-known Zuni Café.
I was very happy in San Francisco, but soon realized that it was not my dream to have a restaurant of my own. I knew then that food was going to be a part of my career life, but I didn’t know how or in what fashion. That’s when my old culinary school mentor, Chef Michel LeBorgne called and asked me if I wanted a job! Why not? I moved back to Vermont to work at NECI, my old school. I became a teacher. I never had predicted that I’d be a cooking teacher but I discovered just how much I enjoyed teaching others, especially home cooks. A year later, I moved back to San Francisco and did just that – managed and taught at two HomeChef® cooking schools for home cooks. I was also the test kitchen manager for a food product development company – the only time I’ve ever had a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday job!
That Monday to Friday, nine to five thing ended quickly when I moved to the Philadelphia area to work on QVC! With live television, you’re on whatever time of the day or night it is and whatever day of the week it happens to be. Still, it is exciting to be on live television, cooking and showing people how affordably they could equip their kitchens.
Shortly after my arrival at QVC®, I realized that I needed a focus, a goal, maybe even a mission statement. I spent time thinking about what I enjoyed most about my work. I realized that teaching people, de-mystifying cooking techniques, and helping people become happier, more comfortable in the kitchen was the most gratifying thing I’d ever done in my career. Being comfortable. Being happy. Helping people make good food and consequently make other people happy. It all stems from comfort and a feeling of being comfortable. I knew that I was most comfortable kicking around in my blue jeans. Hence, the Blue Jean Chef® was created – hoping to make people as comfortable in the kitchen as they’d be in their blue jeans.
I’ve been cooking on QVC for the last 14 years, and in the meantime have published four cookbooks as the Blue Jean Chef, three of which are on pressure-cooking. You can also cook with me in my cooking class videos called The Basics. Both outlets – my cookbooks and videos – allow me to show people just how easy it can be to get a great home-cooked meal on the table. No right way or wrong way, but always an easy way.
Cooking should be fun, relaxing, comfortable – just like your favorite jeans. Sure it’s nice to dress up sometimes, but give me a comfortable pair of jeans any day, and that’s what I’ll pick.