Pamela Keith is a classically trained chef, whose professional experience includes executive chef, restaurant management, catering, culinary instructor, and food industry consultant. Pamela received her grand-diplome from the Ritz-Escoffier École de Gastronomie Francaise in Paris, and worked in a number of Michelin-star restaurant kitchens including L'Espadon in the Hotel Ritz, Michel Rostang, and Jacques Cagna.
Pamela served as Culinary Director and Resident Chef/Instructor for Draeger's, one of the country's most renowned gourmet retailers and culinary education centers, and created their popular line of retail packaged foods, Epicurean Classics. At Williams-Sonoma, Pamela partnered with the retailer to develop their in-store cooking class programs. She has served as spokesperson for Nestlé Specialty Foods, and shares her enthusiasm and knowledge of cooking with food aficionados from around the world through gastronomic tours of the Dordogne region in the Southwest of France.
TWELVE QUESTIONS FOR PAMELA
1. WHEN DID YOU START COOKING?
I was five years old when my Swedish immigrant grandmother, a professional cook, sat me on a tall stool at the kitchen counter. Together we baked apple pies and I proudly presented my pie at Kindergarten Show and Tell.
2. WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS?
After many years in the business, I still love to cook. My work is creative every day. I thrive on the challenge of timing and getting it perfect. And delighting folks with fantastic food isn't too bad, either.
3. BIGGEST COOKING DISASTER?
Actually, it was a teaching disaster. I had decided to teach a vegetarian cooking class. It was a sold-out event with a gorgeous French-inspired menu – avocado soufflé crepes, quinoa baskets filled with jeweled vegetables and a plum sauce, and for dessert, a layered citrus terrine. I'd presented the class and was serving tastings of the dessert, when one of the students stood up and asked with authority, "Isn't gelatin an animal product?" Of course, she was right. I rewrote the recipe with agar and sent it to each student.
4. WHAT DO YOU COOK AT HOME?
My daughter and I often cook together – it gives us some quality time. But I keep it simple because my life is a busy one – a tossed pasta, pan-roasted chicken breast on the bone, roasted potatoes, salad greens with fresh vegetables and a homemade vinaigrette. I do love hot dogs, though, and we're on a kick now with matzoh ball soup.
5. WHAT'S YOUR COOKING PHILOSOPHY?
Cook with your heart – it feeds your soul. Despite being a chef, I'm still a mom in charge of making dinner happen every night. Getting the family together at mealtime is essential to our family "culture." My advice for others is to find your rhythm and what works for you in the kitchen. If you need help, get it with good quality, preferably organic, packaged and prepared foods and then put your personal spin on the food. Ultimately, it's not about making the perfect recipe or being a "gourmet" cook. It's about gathering friends and family to the table for a good meal.
6. WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE KITCHEN TOOL?
My hands and a sharp chef's knife.
7. WHO'S YOUR BIGGEST CHEF INSPIRATION?
How fortunate for me to have been inspired by four people – my grandmother; Julia Child; the chef de cuisine and my teacher at Ritz-Escoffier, Jean-Louis Taillebaud; and my good friend, the chef and teacher Barbie Aknin.
8. "AHA!" MOMENT?
The moment I decided to leave my corporate job in the hospitality industry and go to Paris to cook and find my misplaced soul.
9. WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE MEAL?
Just-picked greens with a Dijon walnut vinaigrette. Organic, plump whole chicken stuffed with lemon and rosemary and roasted at a high heat with vegetables scattered in the pan to cook in the rendered juices and a splash of white wine. Heirloom tomatoes (in season) with dollops of fresh chevre and extra virgin olive oil. When it's cold outside, a creamy potato Dauphinois. Hunks of bread torn from a still-warm loaf. A ripe epoisse cheese. A piece of good chocolate and perfectly ripe strawberries. Or a warm nectarine and cherry galette served with my pal Nancy Young's lavender ice cream.
10. WHO'S YOUR FAVORITE CHEF?
I've worked with many great chefs. I admire and love Lidia Bastianich – she gave me sage advice on being a mother and having a career. Julian Serrano of the Bellagio's Picasso Restaurant taught me the virtue of simplicity in haute cuisine. Traci des Jardins, of San Francisco's Jardiniere, Acme Chophouse and Mijita, is the real thing – one of the world's great chefs who happens to be a woman. Marcus Samuelsson of New York's Aquavit, a brilliantly innovative chef and a truly nice person. Thomas Keller, for making me never want to return to the French Laundry so nothing will every come between me and that first perfect dining experience. Joel Robuchon, who gave me the best meal of my life at his restaurant in Paris. And to all the chefs in my favorite hole-in-walls, and all the chefs who have ever cooked for me, because they've touched my life in so many ways.
11. WHAT'S YOUR FAVORITE COOKBOOK OR MAGAZINE?
I don't use very many cookbooks, which surprises some people – my cooking comes from intuition and training. I do use Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking – I'm a Francophile, and a Juliaphile. Sometimes I use the Gourmet Cookbook. The Zuni Café Cookbook is a brilliant compilation of recipes. And for baking, I consult Flo Braker's The Simple Art of Perfect Baking or I call my pal Alison Reich, the best pastry chef I know. Magazines? I subscribe to all of them, but I particularly enjoy Saveur, Gastronomica, and Donna Hay.
12. WHEN WILL YOU WRITE YOUR OWN COOKBOOK?
The proposal is nearly finished, but we're still working on the title. Dinner for ten at your house if you can come up with a good name for my book!