Editor's Note: Chefs are the backbone of so much of the work we do. Whether it’s culinary events that raise critical funds, our nutrition education programs that teach low-income families how to shop and eat on a budget, or even lobbying on Capitol Hill on behalf of hungry kids, chefs are some of our most dedicated volunteers and advocates.
We want to introduce our community to more of these chefs, so we’re starting an ongoing interview series that features these chef advocates. The next in our series is Elissa Narow of Chicago, IL. Elissa is the pastry chef at two of Chicago’s hottest restaurants, Perennial Virant and Vie. In addition to participating in many Share Our Strength events (most recently, the annual Rock ‘N Roll Bûche de Noël competition), Elissa gives back by serving on the Taste of the Nation Chicago organizing committee. We’re thrilled to feature her this month.
Elissa! You’ve been involved with Share Our Strength in so many ways – as a participant in so many events to serving on the volunteer committee for Taste of the Nation Chicago. What inspired you to get involved?
Honestly, I was introduced to Share Our Strength and Taste of the Nation by Mindy Segal at a time when I was between jobs, so had lots of time to devote to the event. Four years later I have learned so much more about the organization and its commitments. I am happy to play a small role within the scope of Share Our Strength.
Are there any other chefs that you admire or that have influenced your approach to pastry?
Della Gossett was the first chef I worked under and as my mentor has always had a huge influence on my style. I have also always admired the work of Claudia Fleming, Oriel Balaguer and Ramon Morato.
What were your most memorable meals (or desserts!) of 2012?
I am a huge fan of Bill Kim, so dining at BellyQ was one of my favorites! I love the desserts of Amanda Rockman at Balena and the Bristol. And I can’t go to NY without getting a (or a few) canelé at Café Boulud.
The Bûche de Noël you made at the Holiday Rock N Roll competition was beautiful – such a creative use of wintertime flavors! What are your other favorite wintertime desserts?
I’m pretty simple in what I enjoy eating so … warm apple crisps with melty vanilla ice cream, lemon tarts or almost anything citrus.
You’re a veteran of some of Chicago’s best restaurants and know from the inside how great Chicago’s culinary community is. What is most exciting to you about cooking and eating in Chicago right now?
One of the things I am looking forward to is the restaurant that Nathan Sears (former chef de cuisine at Vie) will be opening this summer, The Radler. I have also been excited about working with my pastry crew at Perennial Virant on pastries for brunch and Elaines Coffee Call. Since I have been primarily involved with dinner only establishments, it’s been fun to focus on morning bites!
Are you planning anything special for Perennial Virant or Vie’s menu for Valentine’s Day?
Vie and PV both offer prix fixe menus for Valentine’s Day. Elaine’s Coffee Call will be selling valentines treat for the week leading up to the 14th!
What would you say to chefs who are looking to give back? Why is No Kid Hungry important to you?
Share Our Strength is a great organization for chefs to work with as they offer so many programs with which to work. However, find any program within your community that you can share your time and skills with and you will be rewarded in so many ways. As someone who never had to worry about food or where my next meal was coming from, No Kid Hungry is important to me as a campaign that will hopefully ensure that every child (and adult) shares this same experience.