Have I ever got something wacky for you guys! So check this out. For the past couple months, I’ve been writing a real, live cookbook. And by “writing” I mean up to my eyelashes in granulated sugar. The book is scheduled for release next Spring, and will be published by the fun, creative and insanely talented folks over at Quirk Books. I can’t even begin to tell you how thrilled I am to be in the company of some bloggers/authors I have such mad admiration for, like Matt, Susan and my darling friend Anita. Wow, wow, wow.
I’ve been recipe testing and writing for quite a while already, and this week I am already preparing for the first shoot for the book, which will be shot by the extraordinary Leigh Beisch and styled by Sara Slavin. This dynamic duo has created some of the most incredible images from beloved cookbooks I have had on my shelves for years, so in a few days, you can find me showing up at a photo studio with boxes of painstakingly-made goodies, trying not to die from awkward excitement.
Cue the Dionne Warwick, people. This is a post with purpose.
See this awesomely humiliating photo, here? That’s me on the left, and Elizabeth, one of my dearest friends in the whole wide world, circa 1995, right before our junior prom in Barrington, Illinois. See how effortlessly Elizabeth pulls off the vintage look, with her high-waisted dress and perfectly waved bob? And see how I’m failing at my efforts to channel Winona Ryder in Reality Bites and instead resembling a pubescent drag queen? Yeah. That’s all you really need to know about our friendship. Well that, and I remember some douche-y jock-type once inferring that we were probably lesbians because we always hung out together and neither of us ever had boyfriends. But that is neither here nor there.
Elizabeth and I are the sort of friends who can always pick up right where we left off, no matter how long it’s been since we’ve seen each other. Maybe it has something to do with being so close during a period when my eyebrows looked like that. But anyway, after several years of not seeing each other and barely keeping in touch, we both ended up thousands of miles away from Illinois, in Northern California, me in San Francisco and her up in Napa. How funny is that? Total destiny, I’m telling you. A couple weeks ago, we bathed our toddlers in the same bathtub and almost died from disbelief as our 16-year-old selves clashed with the present.
We still have so much dorky fun together. Elizabeth is perfection, basically, and the best sort of friend a girl could ever ask for. I’ve always admired her for her intelligence, her humor, and now that we’re all grown up and married, her fabulous taste in husbands.
Now this handsome man right here—this is Brandon Sharp. I like to think of him as Mr. Elizabeth, but really he is an entity all his own. He’s the executive chef at Solbar, the phenomenal restaurant at the Solage resort in Calistoga, California. He’s a Michelin-starred chef with the most remarkable culinary sensibility. He also happens to be one of the most humble people I’ve ever met. Someone who can seamlessly put a shrimp and watercress salad with mint-thyme crema and bacon-cheddar sliders on the same menu probably deserves to be a little cocky. But not Brandon. He cooks his heart out for more hours a week than I can even fathom, and still manages to be a star husband and father to the two almost illegally adorable little boys he has with my dear Elizabeth.
Whenever I visit them and see that little family together, bonding over their love of food and feeding people, it’s nothing short of inspiring. As you can tell, I am a rabid Sharp Family Fan. Ergo, I’m not about to miss an opportunity to let the world know how spectacular Brandon Sharp is. And guess what? You, darling reader, can help me spread the word.
Brandon is currently in the running for Food & Wine‘s The People’s Best New Chef award in the Pacific region. Now, I personally don’t really know if you can call a guy who’s been working his tail off in kitchens for more than 15 years a “new chef”, but he certainly fits the description of a hot, young chef who deserves to get some serious attention in one of the most important food publications out there. And come on—LOOK AT THAT FACE. I’d much rather have that on my nightstand than another glossy photo of shortribs or something.
Here’s all you have to do to help promote one heck of a guy, and in turn credit me for sharing with you totally cringe-inducing photos of myself:
Get on over to CNN’s Eatocracy page for Food & Wine’s The People’s Best New Chef 2011: Pacific. Scroll down past the profiles (pausing to enjoy the photo and blurb for Brandon), and click the little button next to Brandon’s name. That’s it. No logging in, no e-mail sign up, nothing. Easy peasy. Vote for an excellent chef, an awesome husband and father, and one of the good guys. Especially one that’s married to the first person with whom I ever got totally, completely wasted. Thank you!
Oh, darling readers. I wish I could give you all a big old holiday hug right about now. In fact, even if we were all snowstorm-stranded in an airport together, I’d say we’d all hit the nearest airport pub, pull up a bar stool or two and end up having a grand old time chatting about cookies and the events of the year. And to help me show my love for you all, CSN Stores has offered me another sweet $100 gift card to give away to one of you. You deserve to go bananas buying new kitchen stuff for yourself. Seriously.
Naturally, I wish I could give one away to every single one of you, and one day I hope to reach that level of Oprah-dom. I dream of being able to say, “Every! Body! Gets! A! Giftcaaaaarrrd!!!” But for now, this will have to do. And it’s really quite easy to enter, guys. I mean, it’s creeping up on Christmas, here. Let’s take a load off.
Thanks to CSN Stores for sponsoring this sweet giveaway!
You know what most mothers of toddlers dream about? I mean, besides that their children will grow up healthy and strong and achieving all of their hearts’ desires? Multiple nights alone in a luxury hotel room with nary a sippy cup in sight, that’s what. Thank you, Sears Chef Challenge, for providing me with such a glorious experience. Oh, and getting the opportunity to help judge the actual competition–with its amazing energy, high drama and delectable food in the greatest city in the world–was pretty incredible, too.
I arrived in my hometown of Chicago the evening before the competition, and was whisked off in a fancy car to a fabulous downtown hotel. After checking in and rolling like a Labrador in wet grass all over the plush, pristine king-size bed that was to be mine alone for the next two nights, I made a quick change and set out in search of dinner. In what was probably the most boring first meal in Chicago choice ever, exhausted and bloated with airline carbohydrates, I went out in search of an enormous salad, and headed to a Whole Foods down the street, which so happened to be one I’d visited often during my days working at that job from which I’d asked to be fired. I took my time walking there, reminiscing about my old days as a free-wheeling Chicago single all the while.
With the warm fall breeze drifting about, the gorgeous urban landscape of my hometown hugging me all around, and those Chicago folks who are just so dang nice holding doors and offering smiles, it was hard to hold back my misty eyes, my heart bursting with Windy City love. I called up the husband and demanded we move back to Chicago. The husband reminded me that it was October, and had it been January, I’d be crying for the next plane back to California. Trivial matters.
The next day held a bit more lovely free time for me to roam about the city and buy completely unpractical shoes, and by late afternoon I was all dressed up and reporting to the Kenmore Studio for the main event. This place was seriously impressive—an enormous broadcast studio-meets-shiny-appliance-showroom. It was all decked out for the night’s competition with comfy lounge and bar areas, gleaming mini-kitchens for the chefs and a long, glossy table for the narrow-eyed, discerning judges.
Event co-host Michelle Alegria grills the judges and works the crowd
|The dynamic Chef Lovely presents her dishes to the judges|
All of the dishes were good, of course, but certain elements really wowed. For instance, I’m looking at you, bacon fat candle, lit by Chef Dino and drizzled over my Brussels sprouts. Chef Murphy‘s pork chop with pan-roasted apples was pure autmunal splendor, and I also loved the tangle of goodies in the dish made by Chef Friedman, a beautiful jumble of greens, vegetables and a smattering of pomegranate seeds with a few slices of perfectly cooked lamb on top.
It was an incredibly tough job to score the dishes—the pressure, I tell you!—but I tried my best to give fair scores in the few seconds we were given to make a decision, and suppress my urge to yell, “Can I change my answer?!” as the microphone passed by after I’d given my feedback. In the end, Chef Dino, with his innovative flavors and clean, creative plating, came out on top to win $10,000 for his charity and advance to the finals.
All the chefs cooked their hearts out and it was an incredible evening full of people who truly love food. Many, many thanks to the good people at Sears for allowing me to be a guest judge for the last round of the semi-finals. I felt so insanely lucky to be a part of the whole thing. I’m pumped to check out who will win at the finals, and hey, you should too! You can check out the competition on November 4th on the Sears Chef Challenge website.
Just a quick update before I embark on the much-anticipated craziness that is bound to be BlogHer Food ’10! First–obviously–if you, too, are going to be joining the festivities here in San Francisco this weekend, you BEST track me down and say hello! I’ll be the one trying to look cool and trying not to drink too much, and probably failing on both accounts.
Second, there’s a whole bunch of fun new stuff I’ll get to share with you here very soon, so I hope you’ll stay tuned. In the meantime, you can check out some of my latest “Best of the Bay” restaurant reports that have just been added to the POC Media Page, and enjoy a lovely autumnal photograph of a jovial toddler cavorting in a huge apple crate.
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