In our last post, you learned about Chef Stephen Yen of Paige Hospitality Group, who served as one of the judges at Culinary Fight Night, which we attended last month. Get to know another one of the judges, Chef Elle Simone, creator of SheChef, an organization that provides mentoring and guidance for young women in urban settings. Curious to learn more, we reached out to Chef Elle for an interview.
FP: How did you get your start with cooking?
ES: I grew up in a very kitchen savvy family. My grandmother was an outstanding cook and her mother was very talented in cakes and breads. My great-grandmother ran a Kosher kitchen in a Jewish nursing home and would bring home Challah. My great aunts would come to my grandmother’s to prepare holiday meals together. It was those moments that made me aware of the process of cooking and fresh ingredients. We would drive out to the local farms in Michigan (I’m a native Detroiter) and Canada and pick our own apples, berries/cherries and collards for the holiday. We all cook well and I know it was because of the way our ancestors revered food and cooking.
FP: Half of FP (Kristina) is from the mitten state!
We love the concept of SheChef! How did the idea come about?
ES: After working in the kitchen brigade system for so many years, I noticed that women chefs were not being promoted as rapidly (or at all in some establishments) beyond entry-level positions as their male counterparts. I remember being told by my executive chef, while training for a job, that I would never move beyond Garde Manger. I was promoted to Saucier because those words struck me and I wanted to prove him wrong. Unfortunately, every person is not able to move past adversities in that same way so I created SheChef as a vehicle to destroy, on a legislative and social level, gender inequality in the workplace.
SheChef also provides a platform for women chefs to showcase THEIR talents in an intimate setting for an exclusive group of people and mentoring for those trying to find their niche in the culinary industry.
FP: Glad to hear that you’re helping women chefs to follow their passion!
What are some of your favorite meals to cook at home for yourself?
ES: At home is where I do the bulk of my experimenting in the kitchen. I enjoy creating dishes and creating flavor profiles. I tend to collect a lot of samples of salts and sauces from the time I spend at food shows and networking with people who are introducing their products to the culinary world. Overall though, I think I enjoy making classic Italian food, or at least what I imagine it to be since I haven’t visited Italy yet.
FP: We enjoy our share of classic Italian food. We hope to visit Italy someday also!
Name three chefs you would like to cook with in the same kitchen and tell us why.
ES: I would love to cook WITH (because I’ve cooked FOR already) Chef Carla Hall because she cooks well a lot of the foods I grew up on with straightforward but refined recipes. I would also love to cook with Chef Eric Ripert; Classic French technique is so amazing to me. Finally, I would love to cook with my Grandmother one more time but she’s no longer with us so my list will remain at 2.
FP: When you go out to eat, name some of your favorite places in NYC or other cities you’ve visited.
FP: I LOVE regional cuisine so some of my favorite spots may or may not be found on a “best eats” list even though they should be. One of my favorites is The Purple Yam. I worked on a major cruise line and most of my co-cooks were Filipino. Due to that influence, I’ve come to love authentic Filipino food and The Purple Yam has that! It’s located in the Carroll Gardens area of Brooklyn.
My second favorite place is Old Homestead Steakhouse. I think it’s New York’s oldest steak house and is the place to go for the PERFECTLY cooked steak. It’s kind of pricey so I reserve it for a special occasion.
Finally, a small taco stand inside Chelsea Market called Los Tacos. I can’t even find words that describe the authenticity of these tacos. There are even two Mexican sisters making fresh corn tortillas there! It can’t get any better and you can eat well on a budget.
FP: Like you, we like finding the hidden gems and enjoying good food on a budget!
What are some of your guilty pleasures? We like to call them foodie pleasures, hence the name. 🙂
ES: I have a few guilty pleasures: Baked Alaska, Key Lime Pie, Bread Pudding of any sort, my Granny’s sweet potato pie and FINE DINING! I won’t hesitate to pay a lot of money for the culinary greats to cook for me.
FP: We’ve been craving key lime pie recently!
Besides being a Chef, what are your non-cooking hobbies/interests?
ES: My hobbies vary depending on the seasons. I love outdoor events like concerts or botanical gardens in the summer. In the spring and fall, I enjoy garage sale-ing and vintage boutiques/ gallery shopping. I especially love to collect vintage cooks tools. I have a vintage whisk tattoo on my left forearm that I designed!
FP: It was great learning more about you! Thank you again for your time and we wish you continued success!