Can you tell us a little about your background as a chef and what drove you to the craft?
I’m a classic Northern California chef and I came up with the rise of culinary programs in the early 90’s. After enough college, I left before gaining a degree in humanities to attend the esteemed (expensive) California Culinary Academy in San Francisco; all the while working the line at Stars Palo Alto, at the beginning of the Dot Com Bubble on the Peninsula. It was nuts– 400-500 covers a night. I later moved on to the restaurant training of my culinary dreams, a French bistro, L’amie Donia. Proprietor and Chef Donia Bijan became my mentor. I had a love of French bistros and European cooking from the earlier part of the century, thanks to my English father and multiple trips to England, growing up. I fantasized of living in Europe. I later did a semester abroad in London. It was hard to come home. But cooking has the ability to take you anywhere you can’t be. I live in LA now, if that tells you anything.
Tell me about your early memories of cooking?
My mother baking cakes, cookies, pies and all of our delicious family meals. She brought happiness to our home from our simple, galley kitchen. We lived a simple life, and nothing was wasted. My mother and I also loved cooking shows on PBS, and made a tea tray every Saturday morning to watch the Frugal Gourmet and Julia Child’s cooking show Cooking with Master Chefs. Martha Stewart specials were a favorite. We recorded all of them, watching them until I could recite the dialogue (her Pommes Anna and cobalt blue glassware). I was 14.
To date, what are some of the most challenging experience you have had as a chef?
There are so many challenges to being a chef. When I was starting there weren’t many women cooking in restaurants, and I was reminded of it regularly by the vulgarity of the kitchen. It can be a boys locker room. But to be honest, I didn’t mind it. I grew up around a lot of boys — I could hang. But the real challenges come with time. To become a chef takes time and a lot of dedicated years of hard work. You don’t really know your craft until your feet are broken and your hands are numb and you’re mentally depleted. Not to mention understanding the craft. That comes much later, if at all!
I always say, we chefs are the tireless ones. We keep going. Because you are curious enough and used to the hard work. I am still tired from five years ago. But, like an addict, the adrenaline pulls you in and the stamina for a chef is very high. I’m 48 this month, it will be interesting to revisit this question in 10 years.
What inspired your upcoming class “Middle Eastern Mezza Kids Cooking Class With Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Ambassador Chef Lisa Walker”?
My inspiration to be an ambassador for change is purely personal to my core values. I want to give something to people, particularly those who need what I have. If I can teach a younger generation the joy of cooking, I feel like it is the least I can do. And kids give back much more than you give them.
Whenever I can intersect food with humanity I will. The Food Revolution is a battle against obesity and fast food culture. If you think about it, it’s really a battle against the current consumer culture . We consume and consume and are less involved with creating what we consume. We are so apart from what we consume, as in fast food, we don’t even understand that it is destroying our health and our future. We need to restore our attitudes around food. I want children to see that cooking is vital to a happy productive life and that it is FUN. My mission is to have a more serious role as a food educator in the future. This is the kind of fun we need to promote!
What are you planning to teach in the class?
The class I am teaching as a part of LA Food Bowl is centered on two things. Basic knife skills and a celebration of Middle Eastern cuisine. The basics bring you confidence in the kitchen. The celebration of the Middle East brings a beautiful perspective about one of the oldest cultures in human history. I see this cuisine as time travel. We can go to Lebanon and Syria and experience the same Mezza from a thousand years ago. If we are to have peace in the world we need to experience the cultures of others. There is so much to gain from Middle Eastern cuisine.
How is Jamie Oliver’s message on point with the Los Angeles Food Bowl?
Food Revolution is right on point with Food Bowl because it is a “new kind of food festival”. I was drawn to it for that reason. It is a festival focused on social change and food.