Pomegranate Bistro chef Lisa Dupar's new cookbook Fried Chicken and Champagne is jam-packed with upscale comfort food that reflects her Southern roots. We just had to stir the pot and ask her about the challenges of being a woman in the male-dominated world of the professional kitchen. Read part one of this week's Grillaxin Q&A to learn more.
SW: How did you end up in the Seattle area?
Lisa: I was transferred from the Westin Peachtree Plaza hotel in Atlanta to be the sous chef of the Palm Court Restaurant in the early 80's at the Westin Hotel Seattle. I was the first woman sous chef for the chain.
SW: There was recently a great interview with Sara Moulton on Eater, talking about how difficult it was being a woman in New York City kitchens. Did you experience bad boy behavior?
Lisa: I did experience bad boy behavior back in the late '70s and early '80s. My solution was to open my own restaurant and be my own boss. I realize this is a luxury that not every woman is afforded. If you can cook the pants off the guy next to you, then most quality bosses don't care what's under your chef's coat.
SW: The restaurant world seems incredibly competitive. What advice would you give aspiring chefs these days?
Lisa: You have to -- I mean, have to -- love the craziness of the hours, pressure, conflicts, heat, egos, etc. You simply have to love to cook. If you really love the process of getting amazing food to people whatever it takes, this will come through in your work. Also, don't be in a hurry to "be a chef". I find it very interesting the best chefs in the world call themselves "cooks" and the biggest ego dudes that may not be as accomplished demand to be called "chef." Stay humble!
SW: What are some of the biggest challenges you face these days, in a tough economy?
Lisa:These days, it's about stepping back and truly listening to what people want. People want healthy, recognizable food. People want to know we care about sustainability, local producers, and animal welfare. Price points are a concern and that is a huge challenge to pay (sometimes MORE) for a local product that has a high quality and keep a profitable markup. It is a marketing challenge to make diners aware that sometimes buying the best available local grass-fed beef is more expensive than something shipped in from another locale. But we need to educate the public to the price we pay if we don't spend a touch more upfront!
SW: What's your favorite thing to cook at home?
Lisa: Just love soups, stews, winter foods. Osso Bucco is hands-down my favorite food.
SW: What do you eat when you want to splurge?
Lisa: Hmm, I guess my favorite splurge would be anything caught off my aunt's dock on Edisto Island in South Carolina: shrimp, crab, fish, oysters... cooked up for my family that night. (The splurge is the ticket to get down there!)
SW: Where's your favorite place to eat in Seattle? One upscale spot and one hole in the wall...
Lisa: Oh, that is so hard! It's like being asked who is your favorite child. So many, so little time! Nishino, Lark, LUC, Serious Pie, Poppy, Salumi, Cicchetti, Skillet, Café Juanita. Since Saigon City is down the street from our house and consistently makes yummy pho, that's my go-to hole in the wall!
Check back for part three of this week's Grillaxin for a recipe from Lisa Dupar's new book, Fried Chicken and Champagne.