Story by Danny McCubbin | Photo by Petrina Tinsley
Jewels and Jill Elmore have cooked for some of Hollywood's biggest stars and worked with Jamie when he cooked at a charity dinner in Hollywood. They have just published a book titled “The Family Chef” that is packed with their wonderful family recipes.
I really enjoyed reading how food has been such a strong part of your family's history – do all your family members cook?
Jill: Most of them fancy themselves self-taught experts and love to critique our food!
Jewels: Our grandparents lived in our home when we were growing up. They both shopped and cooked but had very different styles. My Mom is an amazing cook and was always trying new things. My uncles, aunts, cousins, brother and husband all cook. My Dad is the designated shopper and dishwasher. So I guess the key is that everyone participates. The kitchen is where the action is, where the big conversation is happening. It's the place to be.
Do you think that this knowledge about food is passed on intuitively or is it learned?
Jill: I think that anybody can learn how to cook but there are some people who just get it and have it. We have had so many people who have come to help us in the kitchen. Some people, you can tell in ten minutes,” oh, they get it”. For them, it comes naturally. For others it takes a little more effort. Some people are more comfortable following a recipe and others aren't because they use a recipe more as a guide.
Jewels: You certainly don't have to learn in a classroom setting. I have learned so much by watching and asking questions. I've also learned by reading and simply by tasting amazing food. The biggest thing is not to be afraid to try new things in your own kitchen. That's where you learn the most.
Any advice for aspiring Chefs or those starting out in the catering industry?
Jewels: If you want to be a chef there is one thing you cannot avoid and that is giving it your entire heart and soul. Many people think they want to cook for a living but are unwilling to give it their all. Yes, working in a kitchen can be fun. But if you choose to cook professionally every day, you are going to have to have stamina and a hunger to learn. Take every job you can, work with everyone and learn how to do every job in the kitchen. Be kind and respectful to EVERYONE. It will come back to you for years to come, for the rest of your career.
Jill: If food is your passion there are a lot of things you could do aside from simply being a Chef. You could cater or be a food stylist or write a cookbook. But, whatever path you choose, you have to be open and know that you can learn from anyone. Don't be afraid to try new things.
Jamie is becoming more popular in the States and you have known of him since the Naked Chef days. How did you first hear about Jamie?
Jewels: The first time I saw Jamie was on a billboard in Venice, California. I loved the idea of “naked food.” Clean and fresh. It's what we needed at the time – and what we still need. I bought one of his books and was immediately hooked on the freshness and sophisticated simplicity of his food.
Jill: I first saw him on the Food Network and I loved him right away. I loved his style and everything he made. I was working for a family. They had traveled to London for the summer and they brought back his cook book. I started using it. It was simple and fresh and healthy and delicious – and it was inspiring.
You reference Jamie as being a strong influence for you – what is it about the way that Jamie cooks that contributes to this influence?
Jewels: When I think of Jamie, I think of joy, gratitude and an unstoppable enthusiasm to spread the gospel of good food. He tells people about the true power of food. He used this power for good: to inform, to motivate and to stand up for the importance of healthy eating. When he cooks, it is for everyone. I love his “there are no rules” style. It is empowering, especially coming from such an accomplished Chef.
Jill: Well, I do love that his food is fresh and clean. In his books, there's a little bit of everything. Some foods are lighter and some are a little heavier while still being healthy. But what I love most about Jamie is his passion for teaching other people and educating them about food. It's so admirable the way he creates awareness about the importance of good food, especially for all children. It's so inspiring. He inspires me to want to do the same thing.
Jamie is embarking on a TV programme next year where he will be taking over a town and transforming the way that people eat. Any tips for Jamie? Do you think that there are similarities between the challenges we face in the UK with obesity and the States?
Jill: Wow! What an amazing opportunity.
Jewels: I'd just love to get my hands on that many people at one time!
Jill: I definitely think there are similarities between the UK and the states. Part of it is that everyone's lifestyles have changed so much with cell phones and computers. People are so busy. They are getting fast food and not sitting down together at a table for meals.
Jewels: These are global changes. It's the instant gratification. I think Americans would love to see what Jamie does on this show. Jamie is a natural leader for any size of group. I think also would be important to not lose sight of the fact that people are individuals with specific needs. If I were in his place, I think I would want to ask as many questions as possible of everyone in the community, to really gauge where they are starting from. There is something really powerful about people helping each other to take on this endeavor.
Jill: This will be amazing for everyone involved. It's easier to make major changes when you're in a supportive community. People can help each other and get inspired. As far as tips go, it's tough to think about tips because – how do you give Jamie tips!
Jewels: We know that Jamie is so into planting and gardens.
Jill: I imagine that he would use some of his great guerilla gardening strategies that he advocates in his books and shows.
Jewels: Having everyone together growing their own fruits and vegetables would be a great way to get everyone on the same page.
Jill: What a great way to motivate people.
Jewels: That would just be so amazing. It's powerful when everyone's on the same page.
One of the strengths of your book is your “no nonsense” approach to cooking – what tips can you give for anyone who is overweight and striving to lose weight?
Jill: It's all about balancing things. Have smaller portions. Don't deprive yourself. But make sure you are eating tons of fruits and vegetables and a little bit of protein, and eat a lot more fish and less red meat
Jewels: Jill and I know from weight gain and loss! We both recently had babies. Throughout our careers, we've frequently embarked upon our look-good-in-a-bikini plan. To start, you can take vegetables that are as simple as parsley, celery and cucumbers and, if you look at them as a food, instead of just as a garnish, it will change your way of eating.
Jill: We have recipes in our book to show you how to turn these light, delicious vegetables into major role players in your diet. You can season them with salt and pepper or vinegar or herbs and fresh lemon. You can chop them differently. Lentils and quinoa are excellent choices, too, some of our favorites. They are simple and affordable, but when you put them together in the right way you'll love eating them. We're hoping to teach people that eating healthy food is not a punishment. It is a whole new, exciting way of eating and feeling good about yourself because your body will feel better.
What is the best or most memorable meal that has ever been cooked for you?
Jewels: Holy moly!
Jill: That is hard!
Jewels: You know that's a hard question! For me, it's three experiences. Once I had a birthday party at my brother's house. Every year I asked my mom to make fried chicken. I know this isn't the healthiest food but we believe in balance and once or twice a year I allow myself to have some fried chicken. That day, my mom just kept bringing in trays and trays and trays of fried chicken. It was a tough time in my life but that experience was so comforting and soothing.
The second time, I was at the house of a friend, a Frenchman. He had put some cheeses and olives on the table with some delicious red wine. Then, while we talked in the kitchen, he must have basted this roasted chicken he had in the oven a hundred times. He served it with vegetables and a bit of grainy red rice. It was the most juicy, crispy roasted chicken I've ever eaten. It was just divine. I remember thinking this is so simple. But he had been taking such good care of his food. It was made with such care and love that it was one of the best meals I've ever had. It was as amazingly satisfying as the weeping-with-joy experience I had at Per Se, Thomas Keller's restaurant in New York City (meal number three). It shows me why, when Jill cooks food, it is such an amazing experience for me because she cooks with such love.
Jill: There are so many wonderful meals I can think of. Most of them were in Fiji. One of my most memorable meals was at a friends house there. His family made the most delicious Indian food I'd ever had. They were so hospitable and so warm and that was amazing. I love going into other peoples' kitchens and having them cook for you. Because I cook, I know the work and effort that is involved in it. When someone does it for me I so appreciate it.
I am very critical of the food that I cook and occasionally will give myself some praise for a meal that I have made – are you the same? Do you think that a meal that is cooked for you tastes better then the meal that you make yourself?
Jill: One of my favorite stories about Jewels is she used to keep a book and rate herself every day for the food she made. She would give herself an 8 and write in the book, “Everyone loved it, but I can't give myself a 10 because I didn't put as much effort in it as I should have.” I think that is the funniest thing ever. As far as a meal cooked for you, that's really hard to say. I think it depends on what it is. Like I said, when it's something cooked for you, not from a restaurant, but from somebody's home kitchen, then that is often better than what I make for myself. I definitely do enjoy the food I make for myself. It's just that sometimes when somebody makes it for you it's often something new and different. I like having that experience and trying to learn from what they've made.
Jewels: It is such an intimate experience when food is passed between one person and another.
When it comes to eating your own food, you should just be proud of yourself for putting in the effort. I think you should give yourself praise for wanting to give the beautiful gift of making beautiful food for yourself.
You both have cooked for some amazing people – have you ended up teaching them as well so that they can cook as well?
Jewels: When you're all in the kitchen together, I think it's natural that that happens.
Jill: They might have their favorite thing that they want to learn how to make and so you teach them.
Jewels: That is some of the most rewarding time because we get to show them it's not that difficult to do.
Jill: One of my favorite times is when the kids come in and learn and we get them excited about cooking, too. One family that I worked for had certain traditional family dishes that the grandmother would make and she taught me how to make them so that I could make them and she could relax and enjoy herself. Then I would do something different and she would learn from me. Like spanikopita. When I use filo dough I cut it first and then I bake it because it's so much easier. Now she does that, too. I don't work for them anymore, but I still make some of those foods. I love that back and forth, learning from people.
If you were stuck on a desert island and had one complete meal (entrée, main and dessert) that you could eat everyday what would that be?
Jill: Dessert is easy. It would be ice cream. Do I have to pick one flavor? I would either want vanilla ice cream with fruit or with chocolate sauce and nuts.
Jewels: For me, variety is huge. If I was going to have to have the same meal every day, then every course would have to be from a different culture. The first course I would probably have would be a Japanese style toro tuna tartare . I think then I would probably choose a shellfish like shrimp or lobster. Probably a light Thai-style lemongrassy, brothy, curry dish. Then I would have to have a salad with lots of Belgian endives and arugula and big parsley leaves and big pieces of pecorino cheese. Would it be too much to ask for and a cheese plate with a big-bodied red wine like a Borolo. Is that too many dishes?
Jill: For my entrée, I would want to have a salad just so that I could stay healthy. Something fresh and green. I would want something spicy for my main dish. Maybe I would want my mom's red chili with pork meat with her homemade tortillas and fried eggs.
If you could cook a dinner party and invite 5 people who would they be and why?
Jewels: I would definitely invite my sister because I think she's my biggest fan.
Jill: (laughs) If you had a party and didn't invite me, I'd be devastated. Plus I'd have to help you.
Jewels: I would want my husband there. This is really hard. Who would I want? Who would I want? I would want my family, the people I love. My family and friends. I can't limit it to five. I think I just have to say that.
Jill: I know I'm supposed to say Julia child and Gandhi or something but I don't know.
Jewels: We just have to say here that, if you come from a Mexican family, there is no such thing as five people to dinner
OK, then, let's say it's anybody except your family…
Jewels: Right. Then I guess I would then say, hmmm … my friend Louise because she'd help me cook. She's a chef.
Let's say, none of these guests are family members or personal friends!
Jewels: Well, then, most definitely I would be honored to cook for our president.
Jill: I feel the same. It would be such an honor to cook for our First Family.
Jewels: … to give them back some of the energy they have given us.
About the author: Danny McCubbin is the website editor for JamieOliver.com
The Family Chef is available on Amazon