F&B Magazine : Chef of the Month Chef Elizabeth Falkner

You’ve lived and worked on both coasts. What’s the biggest difference between food cultures in the Bay Area compared to Brooklyn?
I don’t think the culture of people eating is so dramatically different it’s really about the agriculture, the climate, different seasons and what’s available on either coast. I learned the difference in cooking on the west coast versus the east coast is everything to do with summer and winter – in the winter you want to make lasagna or something hot because it’s more comforting. I would say the same thing about summertime in San Francisco. It might be tomato season because it’s warmer in micro-climates where tomatoes grow, but by the time you want to make a Gazpacho in San Francisco it’s not happening because the summertime there is cold.  Growing seasons are important too – in the green market in New York right now you’ll get kale and rutabaga and root vegetables, while in California it’s still citrus. I frequently visit Florida where they are growing something totally different too, but I’ve noticed the difference in climate is probably the most significant thing that effects my own cooking.Talking of which, in Cooking Off The Clock you focus on unfussy recipes for the home. What have you been making or baking during your down time lately?
I cook all the time and while I dislike being stereotyped as a pastry chef only because I cook all kinds of things, ironically I’ve been working on new dessert recipes for Craftsy online cooking classes, which will launch in April. I’ve been making some really amazing fun dishes that happen to be healthy so it’s not all sugary sweet. I don’t want to say it’s just all granola-y good for you stuff, because I love chocolate but have always been very conscious about what I’m eating. Growing up in California, people are pretty physically active – I’ve always been physically active myself and am running the NY marathon this year – so I’ve been more interested in developing more nutritionally conscious recipes. 

You’ve appeared on several food network competitions over the years. Is there one that stands out?
The Next Iron Chef where I went to the final against Geoffrey Zakarian was pretty significant and a fun journey for me to go through. I know made some amazing stuff and don’t think I blew any one of my courses in the final – I think it was perfection. I pulled out a can of whoop-ass because, even though I was edged out, I did better and I think the viewers thought okay, that girl actually kicks ass. I felt really good about it.

You’ve also been both a competitor and a judge. Do you enjoy being one more than the other?
I love the game and enjoy doing, both but probably like being a competitor the most. I don’t always enjoy judging dessert shows because it’s too much sugar – hopefully desserts will continue to evolve because I don’t like having a sugar bomb thrown in my face because sugar is all I taste.

How did you first become involved with Women Chefs and Restaurateurs?
I was working as the pastry chef at a restaurant called Elka at the Miyako Hotel in San Francisco and the owner, Elka Gilmore, was one of the founding Women Chefs and Restaurateur members. The first WCR dinner was held at our hotel when I was 26 years old or something like that – all these superstar female chefs came to our restaurant and hotel and did this, what we do today – I was completely star struck by everybody and wanted to be just like them.

Your presentation at the upcoming Women Chefs & Restaurateurs conference will be based around the theme “words of wisdom”. What is one piece of advice you would give to up and coming female chefs?
Because it’s a really intense, physically demanding line of work my biggest piece of advice is to take care of your body and really treat yourself like an athlete. I don’t feel like anybody ever told my generation that, in order to be successful and have longevity as a chef, you need to do something to counter the long hours spent standing up, the late nights, diet and so on – otherwise you’ll end up being crippled at some point, or just not able to physically handle it. I played soccer until I was 38 and then picked up kickboxing, sword fighting, lots of yoga and Pilates and then I also have been getting acupuncture every month ever since I started cooking.

You will also be emceeing the WCR Food Games at the conference in April. What does the event entail?
Susan Feniger and I will both be emceeing and we’ve got three celebrity chef coaches (Mei Lin, Brook Williamson and Nyesha Arrington) helping each of the three teams. It’s the fourth one I’ve done and they’re super fun because it’s live – in the past the format has been based around three teams making a few different courses with secret ingredients over three rounds – nobody gets eliminated or sent home, there are just winners every round. We have some really good judges too – Nancy Silverton, Dominique Crenn, Sophie Gayot and Antonio Lofaso. So it’s a pretty hard core but it’s all in good fun.

And finally, what’s in the works for 2016? Can we expect to read your memoir this year?I’m almost done with it but not sure when it will be hitting shelves yet. I’m also working on another project, which is a collaboration with my brother, Ryan Falkner –  a story board artist, director and actor – and my friend Cintra Wilson who is a playwright, novelist and just another punk rocker. The three of us are working on a kind of an art food installation – it’s almost like theater but not dinner theater – that will be based around themes of food, fetish and some very taboo subjects.

Learn more about Chef Elizabeth Falkner at her Chef’s Roll profile or at her website. You can also find out more about the Women & Chefs Restaurateurs National Conference in Los Angeles here, and from our Q&A with WCR founder Barbara Lazaroff.