January 23, 2009

It's National Pie Day: An Interview with Pastry Chef Gale Gand

It’s National Pie Day and to help us celebrate that most American of desserts I am very excited to say that I was privileged to do a Q & A with a most distinguished guest: Gale Gand! Host of the Food Network’s Sweet Dreams, partner and award winning executive pastry chef at Chicago’s highly acclaimed Tru restaurant, and author of numerous cookbooks, Gale is a leader in her field and has kindly offered to discuss her adventures with us. I have to say that I was so thrilled about doing this that I needed assistance from two members of the studio audience.

AWB: Hi Gale! Thanks for taking the time to field questions from the Adventurous Women Blog. I know your schedule must be tight between working and kids I’m thankful you could add one more thing to your to-do list.

Since this blog is devoted to encouraging women to expand their horizons, could you explain how a woman would pursue a career in the culinary arts? What kind of training is required? Do you have a formal apprenticeship?

GG: There’s so many roads to the same destination. Culinary school is one of them, but just honing your skills at home and then offering up your time in exchange for learning in a pastry shop or restaurant is another way to do it. Even working for free for a caterer is a great way to get experience and education on the cheap, with more flexible hours than culinary school. I don’t have a formal apprenticeship but have people in my pastry kitchens all the time, working for experience, for a day or 6 months.

AWB: What motivated you to follow this line of work and what kinds of obstacles have you faced in reaching your goals?

GG: I fell into it while going to art school for my BFA. I was flat out hungry and waitressing has few perks, but a free meal each shift is usually one of them. From there I went to cooking, dishwashing, coat checking, hot line…pretty much everywhere I needed to work to become the restaurateur I am today. The obstacles were mostly “Woman in a Man’s Field” stuff, which made me tougher, genderless at work and gave me the ability to swear like a trucker (Do they really swear a lot, though? I’ve never really hung out with a trucker.) Also, I had to learn independence to gain respect in the male dominated kitchen so I found tricks for lifting and dumping 100 pound sacks of flour into it’s bin, stuff like that.

AWB: Your talent for creating incredible desserts has been recognized around the world. What has been your most adventurous creation to date?

GG: I still talk about my biggest challenge as being the time our art dealer was having his son’s Bar Mitzvah at my restaurant, Tru, and they wanted HOT chocolate soufflés…not a problem usually…but this was for 125 people! The precise timing we had to use was intense, putting just so many in the oven at a time because we only had 9 food runners with 2 hands each so only 18 souffles could go out to the dining room at a time. We had to time how long it took a runner to drop off the soufflé to the guest, present it, then circle back in to the kitchen to pick up the next batch. It was 6 ½ minutes, so I had 6 ovens, a time keeper with 6 timers and every 6 ½ minutes we would put 18 souffles in the oven. Then getting them out had to be done with latex gloved hands, 2 at a time. An oven mitt was too thick and clumsy to grasp with and a spatula would tip them over into the water bath where they baked. That was my job as I didn’t want any of my staff to risk getting burned. It was high stress, elating and satisfying all at the same time. After it was over it turned out the latex gloves weren’t protection enough and I had huge blisters on both my hands for at least a week, so I couldn’t go near any heat for a while.

AWB: This question was submitted by Rachel, a 17-year-old aspiring baker who started “Muffin Mondays” at her high school.

Rachel: “Do you ever get tired of making mass quantities of something and if so, how do you not get burned out? Oh, and what’s your favorite thing to eat?

GG: I love making things over and over, trying each time to get it more “right” than the last time. I also just love watching anyone work with their hands that is really good at it, a glass blower, a hair dresser, a bread baker, and myself. I love watching my hands listening to my brain and moving so comfortably through creation. I think that’s part of my insanity that I’ve molded into a tool for success. If I do feel burnt out, I take a nap, watch some black and white movies or have a root beer float and I’m all better. I’m simple that way.

My favorite thing to eat is Grapenuts with vanilla yogurt, with an extra shot of raisins and almonds. So lots of texture…or baked ricotta custard with ripe raspberries.

AWB: Because it’s National Pie Day, I asked my mother, Gloria – who collects pie crust recipes the way some people collect stamps – to submit a question.

Gloria: “There are a lot of pie crust recipes out there; some call for shortening and ice water, some use lard and boiling water, others include baking powder or vinegar. What do you think of the various options and what is your favorite?

GG: My mother belonged to the vinegar and ice water school of thought so I fall into that camp. I think “what ever works for you” is an important concept whether it’s pie dough, how you do your home work, or getting your kids to eat green things. I try to be open and understanding, as long as it gets people cooking in the kitchen, I’m good.

AWB: Finally, you’ve had so many accomplishments already, what’s your next big adventure?

GG: I usually don’t know what it is till it’s in my lap. I have a new book coming out in April of ’09 called Gale Gand’s Brunch, which is a new direction for me…it having savory food as well as sweets and pastry. I have a few really cool projects (one food development and one a new TV series) that look like they are about to happen but I can’t talk about them yet…I signed a confidentiality agreement…so check back with me in 4 months.

AWB: Thanks Gale and best of luck on all of your upcoming projects!

Image courtesy of Gale Gand.

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