When did you start cooking?
I started cooking in my early teens out of necessity. My mom went back to college to finish her degree and my dad... well, my dad's abilities in the kitchen really shine through at the holidays, but his everyday stuff - not so much. We could only tolerate beans & weenies or Spaghetti O's for so long :) As for baking, I grew up covered in three kinds of flour. Working at my parents' bakery was a great way to earn gas money and to use the car, even if it was only to drive a short ways to pick up a 50lb bag of pastry flour. Getting up on Saturday and Sunday mornings at 4:30, that part I could have done without.
Who inspires you?
Grams. To experience my grandmother baking at Christmas is such a treat. I affectionately refer to her as "The OM," (The Original Martha). She seemingly glides around the kitchen, effortlessly tending to no less than 3 batches of Christmas candy at once. She makes the "controlled chaos" look so easy. She peeks at the gingerbread baking in the oven, scoots a errant great-grandchild out of the kitchen, stirs the mixture for fuzzy fingers (her family-famous cookie), and tells a story about my great-grandparents or growing up on the farm with 10 siblings. All while making peanut butter patties.
When I have three dishes going at once, the chaos is slightly less controlled: timers going off, pots boiling over, and food-covered spoons splattering on the floor. All while unknowingly sporting a big ol' smear of cocoa across half of my face.
If you could have lessons from one chef, who would it be?
Rebecca Rather, aka "The Pastry Queen." She spent her pastry chef years in my hometown of Houston before she eventually ditched the big city to open a bakery-cafe in small-town Texas. I am absolutely smitten with her no-fuss Americana approach to cooking and baking - fresh ingredients prepared simply with no-fuss recipes. Plus, I can't think of anything that sounds better than ditching the big city and opening a small bakery and cafe in a sleepy little town in the beautiful Texas Hill Country.
Favorite thing to cook/bake? Etc
I love to bake bread. Sweet, savory, quick, or uber-involved - the yeastier, the better. There's something about the notion of baking homemade bread that makes me feel incredibly domestic and old-fashioned (you know, as I sit at the kitchen island with a glass of wine surfing the Internet on my Mac while the dough is kneading away in my KitchenAid mixer).
Whats one fear you have in the kitchen?
Undercooked meat. I've sent many a slab of meat to a rubbery, over-cooked grave because I'm terrified of serving under-cooked meat. Our new oven has a temperature probe on it and I'm finding that it's incredibly therapeutic to use.
Whats one fear you had in the kitchen but have overcame?
It's embarrassing - mousse. I don't think I was really that educated on what mousse really was or how incredibly simple it was to make. I ignored it for years. I whipped up (literally) my first batch this year - a dark chocolate mousse spiked with a little Chambord. Airy, light, and fabulously easy.