Instead of the high-powered ovens she's used to at the formidable fine-dining restaurant Tru, where she is a founding partner, Food Network star Gale Gand had to make do with a single portable burner when she cooked before a crowd at the Niles Library Sunday.
It took nearly an hour to make a marinara sauce and then poach eggs in wells in the sauce, but Gand filled the time by giving cooking tips, making a specialty cocktail, keeping up a pleasant patter about food industry personalities and explaining why she now entertains with brunches instead of dinners.
That last ties in to her new cookbook, Gale Gand's Brunch, which she autographed for fans after the cooking demonstration.
Even for a professional chef, Gand admitted, preparing, serving and cleaning up after a dinner party--she calls them daunting dinner parties--is exhausting.
"People stay too long, drink too much--and it's expensive," Gand said, citing the $52 she recently paid for four veal shanks at a grocery store.
For that reason, she has turned to entertaining at brunch. To start things off, she makes a specialty cocktail in alcoholic and non-alcoholic versions, saying that eliminates the problem of having half-filled bottles of wine and liquor left over.
"When the first guest arrives a little early, before I've dried my hair, I greet them and say, 'how would you like some prosecco with tangerine juice and a bit of lime? They always say yes, so I show them how to make it. Then I say, 'if the doorbell rings, please make them a drink while I go dry my hair,' and I've got a bartender," Gand advised.
Rather than spend $4 for a bag of little colored sugar to garnish the glasses, Gand demonstrated how to put regular granulated sugar into a resealable plastic bag, add three or four drops of food coloring and massage the contents of the bag until the sugar has evenly absorbed the color. Then she circled the rim of a glass with a cut lime to wet it and plunged the rim into the sugar, giving it a colored sugar coating.
As she scooped the poached eggs in marinara sauce--she joked that her Sicilian mother-in-law, an excellent cook, gives her cooking tips, not caring a whit that Gand has a James Beard award-- gently into bowls and added pretty slices of ciabatta bread for dipping, Gand told how she and her former husband, Chef Rick Tramonto, met Julia Child when she gave them an award early in their careers. When Child asked about Gand's training, Gand replied she was mostly self-taught. Gand echoed Child's reply with the famous trill of her voice: "Never say that, dear. Say you learned in the field."
When Child then turned to Tramonto and asked the same question, with Tramonto replying, "I'm mostly self-taught," Gand said Child smacked him in the forearm so hard that Tramonto, a big, sturdy guy, almost fell backwards. She then admonished him to say he learned in the field.
When Gand took audience questions, one person asked what kind of chocolate she uses in her dessert creations.
"Most of what we use in the restaurant (Tru) is Valrhona," she confided. Her next choice is Callebaut, of which she said, "It's very reliable, forgiving and not persnickety." If neither of those can be had, she chooses Ghirardelli, she said.
That's something to keep in mind if you're making desserts this week.