Savannah’s bittersweet life

Mon September 23, 2013 10:35pm

On your blog ( you write that you started cooking in high school. But c’mon, you must have had some training somewhere. A semester of cooking classes?  Time at culinary school? What’s your background?

I wish I had culinary training! A few years ago I took a fondant cake decorating class at Sandlee’s on Third Avenue and I took a pho Vietnamese cooking class at Great News in PB.  But, that’s it in terms of formal training for me.  Every thing I know about cooking I have basically taught myself.  I am obsessed with food and I love learning about it, so curiosity is really what drives me to learn and to cook.  So, a combination of research, cook books, cooking shows and trial and error make up my cooking background.

What’s the difference between a cook and a good cook? Isn’t it a matter of just being able to read and follow directions?

Well that’s what my husband always says but there is a reason I do all the cooking! I think a good cook is some one who doesn’t rely on a recipe because they have an understanding of the foundations of cooking like flavor combinations, textures, temperature, balance, etc. Anyone can follow a recipe but a good cook makes up the recipe themselves. Always following a recipe can be confining. You don’t get to be adventurous and creative. It’s fun to able to look in the fridge and make up a dish based on what you have. There are so many times when I want to make something and I might be missing a key ingredient. Rather than run out to the store for that ingredient, I improvise and make it work with what I have.  For example, if I don’t have vanilla extract, I use maple syrup instead or Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. It’s so much more fun that way!

We know your husband is your life partner, but in your kitchen, who would you most want to be your sous chef?

The sous chef is the one who executes and manages the chef’s vision, so that’s a super important role.  There are two people in my life who are not only great cooks but people who will always have my back no matter, and that’s my brother and sister. They happen to have a talent for cooking and enjoy doing it, so I know I could trust them to execute my dishes. They are always there for me so there is no one I could trust more then them to support me in the kitchen.

You wrote that being in the kitchen relaxes you. What stresses you out?

Yes, being in the kitchen relaxes me. I get the same feeling from cooking that a painter gets from painting — it’s my creative outlet. What stresses me out? I think everyone can agree that working is stressful, no matter what your job may be. I am a teacher, which is so rewarding, but it also comes with unique challenges. Teachers are some of the most hard working, dedicated people, which means sometimes it’s hard to leave all that stress (and work) at work. Cooking helps me turn it all off and transition to being at home and relaxing with my husband. 

You auditioned for “MasterChef” to try a new experience. What experiences outside the kitchen do you want to have?

Well I hate flying so skydiving most likely won’t be in my future. I am not an adrenaline junkie, I more so like to push myself to see what I can accomplish.  There was a time in my life when I didn’t have a lot of confidence in myself and it held me back from pursuing things that would benefit me. For example, I didn’t think I was smart enough to get into college so I didn’t apply in high school. I have a master’s degree now, so it wasn’t that I wasn’t smart enough to do it, I just didn’t think I could. After that experience, I now operate with the mindset that no dream is too big (not even winning the lottery, ha ha). My next goal is to be the CEO of my own company.  

Describe what it’s like to cook on a television show? Were there any dishes you were asked to prepare you hadn’t even heard of?

Cooking on a TV show is intense! There are cameras, lights and an army of people watching your every move — not to mention time constraints. It’s so much harder than it looks. At home, there is no pressure and if you mess up you can start over. TV is unforgiving and one mistake means the dream ends for you.  That’s a lot of pressure! There were a couple of times when we were asked to cook things I wasn’t familiar with: the pig’s head, the foreign ingredients mystery box and macaroons. I had never cooked or even eaten those. So, that was hard for sure. 

We don’t see much of you in the early part of the series, but in one mystery box challenge it looked like your eyes got teary? Did you cry? How stressful was it being there?

Yeah I was kind of a cry baby on “MasterChef.”  I had always watched people on reality TV shows and wondered why they were always crying? It never made sense to me, I thought they looked ridiculous. Now I know why. It’s really difficult when you think you are good at something, and then you are faced with a series of challenges and every aspect of what you put on a plate is judged. That is a lot of pressure and when it’s something that means so much to you, you get emotional. I even got emotional for other people too.  Like when Bimi got eliminated, I shed a tear because I knew how much it meant to him and his family and I know how disappointed he was to go home. 

When you’re not in the kitchen you’re a special education teacher? What’s more stressful, handling a room full of amped-up students or cooking to impress Gordon Ramsey, Graham Elliot and  Joe Bastianich?

I said over and over that my job was a walk in the park compared to being on “MasterChef” and critqued by Gordon, Joe and Graham. They are some of the best in the business so being judged by them is so nerve racking! They don’t miss a thing so there is no fooling them. If you make a mistake, they will notice and let you know. A room full of kids is a piece of cake compared to them!

You’ve planned the perfect end-of-summer barbecue for you, your husband and four others. But one of your guests has shown up with three more friends! And they are all vegetarian. And have peanut allergies. And will eat only locally grown produce. What do you do?

Ha ha, great question! Hmmm, I would make watermelon, tomato and basil salad, roasted corn with butter, lime juice, cotija cheese and hot sauce, grilled balsamic portabella mushroom burgers and tiramisu for dessert!

On those rare occasions you don’t feel like cooking, where do you go eat?

One of my favorite restaurants in Chula Vista is Romescos. I love the tapas. I lived in Spain for a short time so it brings me back to that time in my life which was a lot of fun. I also love TJ oyster bar, Cheesecake Factory and In-N-Out.