In addition to the invigorating cooking challenges, we love the show Chopped for the inspiring chefs it features. After a recent episode, we got in touch with Chef Carla Contreras (@redclogchef) to learn about her fancy red clogs and more!
FP: How did you get your start with cooking? When did you decide you wanted to be a chef?
CC: Growing up my family had a garden and we shopped at the farmers market every Saturday. We went out to dinner almost every Friday night. Sunday dinners were an essential part of growing up. I was built on pomodoro. Becoming a chef was a natural extension of who I am. One of my first jobs was as a busser in a restaurant. I soon moved into the kitchen and I’ve never left.
FP: What do you enjoy most about cooking?
CC: Being a chef is a journey of constant learning. I learn something new everyday. I have a passion for reading and love learning about cooking techniques, ingredients and my new favorite – health and nutrition.
FP: Name some of your favorite chefs (if any) and why.
CC: My Grandma – She is an incredible cook. She taught me to cook in a similar style to Julia Child – that you need to have a “what the hell attitude in the kitchen.” Her best dishes are ones that don’t use a recipe and that you probably couldn’t recreate again. Her cooking is based in solid technique using whatever ingredients she has. She is very proud that her tomatoes are amazing and grow up the light pole in her front yard.
Daniel Boulud – Working at DBGB was one of the most disciplined experiences of my career. One of the things that I loved the most is that Daniel greets every single person that works for him when he comes into the kitchens. I love his leadership and the quest for perfection that is instilled in the work culture of his restaurants.
Jose Andres – I love that in Avec Eric he talked about the two kinds of cooking – the good cooking and the bad cooking. He honors traditional Spanish cooking yet his curiosity pushes him to make food more interesting while remaining true to tradition. His sea foam margarita is genius. I met him at the NY Public Library’s A Day at El Bulli book signing.
FP: Tell us about your experience on Chopped from casting to filming. What was it like to compete with the other chefs? Would you do it again?
CC: The Chopped casting was really fun. I arrived in the casting offices and they actually thought I was there for Miami Ink since I have a ton of tattoos. I was really flattered. I am not a shy person but the second a camera was on, I froze!
The competition was really difficult because I was so nervous being in front of the camera. I have actually worked considerably on this and I now have an acting coach. I would never have thought as a chef I would need one but she is my fairy godmother!
The other chefs were great to work with. During the taping when heading back to the table after each round everyone was super nice. I loved Benny from Vegas – he has great energy. I would definitely do it again. I would love to win $10,000 to put towards my company Red Clog Kitchen.
FP: We love your concept of the Red Clog Kitchen and your Kick Starter campaign. Share with us how the idea came about.
CC: Thank you! Red Clog Kitchen is the combination of my work life and my personal life. I have struggled with my weight my entire life. Being a chef has not been pretty to my waistline. I ballooned up 65 pounds after culinary school. When I made the move to private cheffing my clients wanted healthy food – no butter, no gluten, no sugar. It not only changed how I started to cook but also changed how I started to eat.
It didn’t really hit me until one woman said that I cheffed her down 35 pounds. I was helping people lose weight and at that point I had lost almost 45 pounds. I also teach cooking at the Institute of Culinary Education so I thought that a video series would be the best way to reach a ton of people.
So now I am raising money on Kickstarter in order to cover production costs, food costs, and equipment. I have some really great rewards for backers and in the next few weeks I will be giving some bonus material to backers so be sure to check it out. Every dollar helps and your help means so much to me. Please click here to become a backer.
FP: It definitely sounds like a great idea!
When you are home, what are some of your favorite meals to cook (If any)?
CC: My favorite meal used to be take-out. I would eat really crappy food and a ton of it – pizza, burgers, wings and my favorite – cupcakes. When I started private cheffing and started cooking tons of healthy food, I actually started to cook for myself. My favorite meal this summer is a raw squash salad with zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, cilantro, scallion, lime, fish sauce, olive oil and cubes of avocado. I eat it with fresh fish that I get at the farmers market.
FP: That meal sounds like it could be a favorite of ours!
What are some of your guilty pleasures (if any)? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name 🙂
CC: I love good food – seasonal things like when you get the first strawberry at the farmers market. I savor those things and feel so special because not everyone gets to eat like that. I like to “skip lunch” and give what I would have spent on lunch to City Harvest at least once a month. It’s super easy to donate online or when I am shopping at Fairway or Whole Foods.
I occasionally have what I call a “cheat day” (I think this would be a true foodie pleasure day). On those days some of my favorite things are cheeseburgers. I have a list of my favorite places – the closest one is Dumont Burger. I also love their fries with mayo.
FP: Cheeseburgers are definitely a foodie pleasure for us! The “skip lunch” concept is a great one!
Name three individuals you would want to invite over for dinner and what you would prepare for them.
CC: Gael Greene – She has been a food writer for over 40 years and has the most amazing stories. For example, the time she had sex with Elvis and afterwards ordered him an egg sandwich from room service. She eats out for a living. It would have to be something magical and fresh. I would shop at the farmers market and get fresh fish from the Lobster Place. Super seasonal, local and perfectly cooked.
M.F.K. Fisher – I remember the first time I read her, I was just out of high school and fell in love. I got a set of first edition books from an older friend and I treasure them so much. You can literally taste the food in her writing. I would make soup since she loved it and for sure include fresh oysters.
Notorious BIG – I draw a ton of inspiration from his music. My favorite line in, “The What,” is “Everything you get you gotta work hard for it.” Working as a chef has been a struggle as my personal relationships have suffered greatly from my dedication to my work. I am not sure what I would cook for him, as I would be more interested in him showing me a great Jamaican place to eat. I do make a killer egg and cheese though – he would have loved that, and of course with Welch’s Grape.
FP: In three words, how would your friends and family describe you.
CC: Loyal, competitive, passionate
FP: If you hadn’t become a chef, what would you be doing? Any non-cooking hobbies?
CC: I originally thought I was going to be a lawyer. I did my first degree with a double major in history and philosophy and graduated with honors. I think I would be a kickass lawyer.
FP: Besides your red clogs, what other shoes do you enjoy wearing? 🙂
CC: I get a ton of use out of my hot pink puma running shoes. I train five days a week now with my trainer. I am up to running a mile non-stop. It’s awesome to be working on getting in shape. I wouldn’t run in clogs – unless I had too!
FP: Thank you Chef Carla for your time! Sounds like you have exciting things in store for your future. We wish you the best of luck with Red Clog Kitchen and other future endeavors.
For more information on Chef Carla Contreras, visit http://www.redclogkitchen.com. If you would like to contribute to her KickStarter campaign visit