Lifestyle
February 18, 2013 • 11:05:16 a.m.

Famous chef Gale Gand to share her story at Opera House

By JAMI KUNZER jkunzer@shawmedia.com

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When Gale Gand told her musical family at age 19 she intended to be a chef, the reaction was disappointment.

She endured a decade’s worth of hassle.

“I might as well have told them I wanted to be a murderer or a plumber,” she said. “They didn’t get it was just another art form.”

Dealing with the male-dominated restaurant industry wasn’t any easier.

Like many women, she said, she struggled at first.

“It’s a boy’s club you kind of have to break into,” she said. “I’m not tall, and I’m not masculine. For me, it was probably extra challenging. I’m 5-foot-2-inches and kind of smiley and perky. I was sort of a foreign species for the kitchen.”

Years later, Gand has quite a success story to tell. She’ll do so at 10 a.m. Thursday as part of the Woodstock Fine Arts Association’s Creative Living Series at the Opera House, 121 Van Buren St.

Her “A Chef’s Journey” presentation is part of a six-speaker series.

A nationally acclaimed pastry chef, Gand also is a restaurateur, cookbook author, television personality, teacher, entrepreneur and mother of 16-year-old Gio and 8-year-old twins Ella and Ruby.

She hosted the Food Network’s “Sweet Dreams,” and has appeared on “Martha Stewart,” “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” “Iron Chef America,” “The Dr. Oz Show,” “Baking with Julia,” “Food Network Challenge” and “Last Cake Standing.”

She also has judged the 2008 season of Bravo’s “Top Chef” and “Top Chef Just Desserts.”

Needless to say, becoming a chef was something she was born to do, despite her struggles.

And her family members, including her father, Bob, a jazz musician and owner of the Village Music Store in Deerfield, have come to realize Gale’s choice to create pastries was just another art form, she said.

Although she first resisted pastries to avoid getting typecast, she found it was a good fit.

Being in the restaurant business requires hard work and passion, and pastries require the “hands of a surgeon,” she said.

“I work with precision, but I love how alive the ingredients are. ... It kind of speaks to me,” she said. “Sharing food is just this really intimate important experience. ... I like to help people mark important moments in their lives and contribute to that.”

She said she loves being part of a marriage proposal, a gathering for someone who’s fought cancer and other celebrations. Having performed with a family of singers from age 6 to 20, she’s always been part of the entertainment.

“I think because that’s the way I was raised, I feel good about providing wonderful meals for people,” she said.

Partner and founding executive pastry chef of Tru in Chicago with restaurateur Rich Melmam, she was recognized in 2001 as Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year by The James Beard Foundation and Bon Appetite Magazine.

She now works as the chef-in-residence at Elawa Farm in Lake Forest, cooking and baking from produce grown in the farm’s gardens to sell at their weekly farmer’s market. She also runs a cooking school there.

And she said she’s fortunate she’s been able to pursue all this while still having a family.

Her latest book, “Gale Gand’s Brunch,” originated from her desire to host brunches instead of late dinner parties after having her twins.

“I just have a lot of places to get a lot of joy from in my life,” she said.

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My grandma Elsie on my mother’s side was a great baker in the Austro-Hungarian tradition. Strudels, poppyseed cakes, coffee cakes and cookies always seemed to be in her kitchen when we visited. I found a great apple streusel coffee cake recipe in her card files when I became the keeper of those treasures. Here it is, revived, with my little twist of using pears instead of apples.


Quick Pear Streusel Coffee Cake

Serves 8


For the cake:

1 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

cup sugar

teaspoon salt

teaspoon cinnamon

1 egg

cup milk

cup melted butter

2 chopped ripe pears (I like Bartlett)


For the streusel topping:

cup sugar

cup flour

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F. Butter an 8-inch square baking dish or line it with parchment paper.

In a mixing bowl using a wooden spoon, stir together the dry ingredients. Add the eggs, the milk and the -cup butter and stir till combined. Add the chopped pears and stir to coat them with the batter. Pour into the buttered baking dish.

To make the streusel, mix the sugar, flour, and cinnamon together in a bowl then pour in the 3 tablespoons melted butter and stir till blended. Sprinkle over the top of the batter. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until golden and dry on top. Cool in the pan and cut into squares. This cake keeps for up to four days, covered at room temperature and is actually better if made the night before.

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This pretty dish is simple to make but impressive to look at. Lining oversize muffin tins with ham serves two purposes. It makes a container for the eggs, and it adds flavor. You can use any cheese you like depending on if you want a lot of flavor or just a whisper, it’s up to you. Fresh mozzarella is more authentic Italian, but the taste is mild. This is knife and fork food, but when I was testing them, I just ate it with my hands.


Baked Eggs in Ham Cups

Makes 4 servings


2 teaspoon butter for the pan

4 thick slices of ham that’s round

1 teaspoon pesto

8 eggs

4 cubes of mozzarella fresh or domestic

4 cherry tomatoes, cut in half

Black pepper to taste


Butter four compartments of an oversized metal muffin tin well. Fold the ham slices into quarters and then place one in each cup to line it with ham. It will ruffle, which is what you want. Place teaspoon pesto in the bottom of the ham cup, then crack in two eggs into a cup and pour it in. Tuck in a piece of mozzarella, two halves of cherry tomatoes and another teaspoon pesto then sprinkle with pepper to taste. No salt needed because the ham may be salty and the pesto has some in to too.

Bake in a 375 degree F. preheated oven for 12-15 minutes until the white looks set but the yolk is still a bit runny. Remove form the muffin tin and serve in small bowls or line them up on a platter to serve.


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