Jennifer Beisser was the president of a very cool website called ChefsLine years ago. It was culinary hotline and connects home cooks to cooking lessons with chefs by phone. I asked her if I could interview some of her very talented chefs and she arranged this Novice to Pro interview with Chef Barbara Freda.
Barb is a restaurant chef, food and travel writer, cooking instructor, and all around gourmet. Her career started in New York City, cooking at Union Square Café and participating in New York's exciting restaurant renaissance. A move to Philadelphia led to catering with Peachtree and Ward, where she found herself cooking at the James Beard House, the Rodin Museum and in the middle of country fields.
She now lives in Florida where she writes about food, wine, and travel, develops recipes.
Did you cook growing up?
Yes. I even (like a lot of chefs) remember the first big thing I did. It was Chicken Kiev and I was twelve. I remember seeing a picture of the dish and I knew my mom wouldn't be making it for us because it was fried. I also spent a better part of my youth helping my grandmom make meatballs and sauce and watching my parents get ready for their neighborhood's gourmet cooking club. Italian food and entertaining really shaped my interest in restaurant work.
Why did you become a professional chef?
It's creative, and I knew I liked the restaurant world after working as a waitress throughout college. I was living in New York during a time when there were many really exciting things going on in the food world. I love to cook for an audience who appreciates good food. Its one of the best jobs around.
What's your favorite food to cook with?
Pasta and risotto. I love starch. Guess it's the Italian influence. I really enjoy pulling recipes from authentic Italian cookbooks and have quite a collection.
Favorite kitchen gadget?
Spring-back kitchen tongs. These became an extension of my arm when I worked in restaurant kitchens. I cant work without them.
What started your interest in cooking instruction?
Working in restaurants for so many years, I really appreciate the importance of organization and want to share that with home cooks. Getting ready for a dinner party for 12 is not all that different than professional restaurant work.
What are some of the best cooking tips you teach to home cooks?
One is to buy the best ingredients you can afford and don't hide them with too many flavors. Great food does not need to be complicated. For my "students" who are throwing a dinner or cocktail party, I give creative ideas about menus and recipes and even develop a timeline for them - a schedule that makes sense. I teach what can be done ahead of time and how to store food properly - all in keeping with having a less stressful and better entertaining experience. In the end, the best cooking tips help home cooks get dishes to come out together and hot.
What's the most creative part in teaching through ChefsLine?
Well, our callers are usually perplexed by some part of cooking and I love problem solving. With ChefsLine, it's interesting, because we are working on their dish and I remember tricks that have become almost second nature to me - it's really fun.