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Christopher Koetke began cooking professionally in 1982 at local restaurants in his hometown, Valparaiso, Ind., and soon moved to Chicago for a position at L'Escargot on Halsted. Eager to expand his knowledge of fine cuisine, Chris traveled to France where he honed his culinary skills in some of the country's finest kitchens. Upon his return to the States, he began a five-year tenure at Le Francais in Wheeling, Ill., and then became the Executive Chef of Chicago's critically acclaimed Les Nomades restaurant.
Chris is the host of Let's Dish on the Live Well Network and has been an instructor at The School of the Culinary Arts of Kendall College since January 1998. He became Dean in 2005 and is now Executive Director. A noted ice carver, spokesperson and a contributing editor to culinary media, Chris has a B.A. in French literature from Valparaiso University, a MBA from Dominican University and a Certificat de la Langue Francaise from the Sorbonne in Paris. He is a frequent guest on WGN and ABC TV in Chicago.
Q: Name 5 foods you always keep in your refrigerator.
A: Lots of different mustards as I love them and my family eats a lot of mustard—especially hot ones! Milk for the morning cafe au lait. Carrots and celery as they are base ingredients in just about everything. Lettuce—I love salads especially when made from strong and bitter greens. Assorted miso, which add a depth of flavor to so many different preparations.
Q: If you could cook for anyone, who would it be for and what would you cook?
A: While this may seem a bit weird, it would be Julia Child if she were still alive. She was my role model. I wrote her for a few years during my teenage years, and she always took the time to respond. When I shared the stage with her at an event many years later, I was reminded of what a great person she was—generous, funny and the ultimate professional. I would make something really special—maybe a stuffed and braised lamb shoulder. My mouth is watering thinking about it. Or maybe something from my childhood like my grandfather's crepes.
Q: What is your all-time favorite breakfast?
A: Outside of crepes and waffles, which are "special" breakfast in my house, I love eggs—really farm fresh eggs, over easy with thick yellow yolks (and a splash of hot sauce) and buttered toast for dipping. You can't go wrong here and can jazz it up as you wish with other ingredients like potatoes, mushrooms, spinach, etc.
Q: What is your favorite kitchen tool?
A: Besides an espresso machine to keep me caffinated, it is a good, solid (and sharp) chef knife. With this, you can do just about anything. I also love a solid wooden spoon. Sounds rather basic, but with great basic equipment, cooking is that much more fun.
Q: What does "Celebrating America's Love of Food" mean to you?
A: For me, it is about family and friends. We celebrate relationships and special events with food. Gathering at the table is almost sacred for me. Some of my greatest memories are about those times when everything is right—great food, family and friends, and hours at the table enjoying it all with a lot of laughter. It is also about the idea of local. Our country is incredibly blessed with a rich diversity of local and high-quality foods. Celebrating local and searching out the foods that make a place unique is part of my personal love affair with food as an American chef.