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All About Food: Will Gwen be cutthroat enough?

August 14, 2013|By Terry Markowitz
  • Chef Jamie Gwen, left, and her mom Lana Sills, share a laugh before serving a tray of desserts.
Chef Jamie Gwen, left, and her mom Lana Sills, share a laugh… (DON LEACH, HB Independent )

Celebrity chef Jamie Gwen is a Southern Californian who has lived in south Orange County for the past 10 years.

She has authored four cookbooks, worked with many famous chefs and had a television show. She currently has a syndicated radio program. This week, she will be one of the contestants on the new Food Network program “Cutthroat Kitchen.”

Jamie’s early memories about food are centered on watching her mother, Lana, cook. Her single mom worked all day but came home every evening and cooked a meal big “enough for an army.”

At lunchtime in school, while most kids were eating their peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, Jaime dined on chicken cacciatore and homemade banana bread. At 13, Jamie, using her mom’s recipe, started her own cheesecake business. She made business cards with puffy paints and sold the cakes to her mom’s friends.

Her mother eventually opened a café and bakery in Brentwood, where Jamie worked the counter, learning about business, the work ethic and persistence. Many local chefs came in to enjoy a coffee at the espresso bar, and when she was 16, one of them, who worked for Wolfgang Puck, invited her to see how a real restaurant kitchen looked and functioned.

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She apprenticed there for a while and picked up Puck’s recipe for mashed potatoes, which she still says are the best ever. The secret is to cook peeled whole garlic cloves in the water with the potatoes and then put them in the food mill with the potatoes, adding cream, crème fresh and herbs at the end.

Realizing that food was her métier, Jamie enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America. After graduation, she worked with Joachim Splichal at Pinot Bistro, learning the ins and outs of every station in the kitchen as well as managing the front of the house. Another of her mentors from Pinot was Octavio Becerra of Palate Food + Wine.

At 27, while successfully managing a restaurant, she auditioned for a TV show called “The Home and Family Show” and won the job over 50 other chefs. She stayed there for 2 ½ years, cooking more than 1,000 recipes.

This was followed by five years on the Home Shopping Network. She worked for Emeril Lagasse as a food stylist for his sitcom. Then on the Canadian shopping channel, when Emeril was busy, she was his stand-in. Staff called her his West Coast chef.

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