When I first met Gale Gand at Chicago Gourmet, I barely recognized her. I offered Gale and her daughter shaded seating at my table, and proceeded to consume my fourth shrimp ceviche with dispassionate chewing. At the time, I didn’t know she founded Tru or hosted Food Network’s Sweet Dreams for eight years. No idea she’d been on Iron Chef, Top Chef, Oprah, and all the top media outlets. No idea she was a mentor for Michelle Obama’s Chefs Move To Schools initiative or a long-time member of the James Beard Foundation.
But a conversation about sunburns and lobster rolls soon revealed to me that I was talking to a culinary magnate just grabbing some grub before hitting the main stage. Before she hurried off for her demonstration, she invited me to shadow one of her culinary adventures. Pleasantly surprised by the offer, I chose to participate in one of her smaller demos, as I wasn’t particularly interested in another large fundraiser or conference.
In this particularly intimate event, she was whipping up a wild mushroom & sage bread pudding and pumpkin pot for an audience of mostly older women. As Gale mixed and poured, she interwove sage cooking advice with random life anecdotes that made her all the more likeable. For instance, her mother chose the name “Gale” instead of “Gail” so she didn’t have to dot an “i” for the rest of her life. She also talked about Charlie Trotter’s passing, picky eating in her household, and random grocery shopping tricks.
After the demo, I got a chance to chat with Gale:
You founded Tru, you hosted a long-time TV show, you were Chef in Residence at Elawa Farm. How do you transition from one thing to another? Do new opportunities just keep popping up?
I actually stepped down from my Chef-In-Residence post last season after two years to finish writing my next book Gale Gand’s Lunch. But to answer the question, yes, interesting opportunities keep coming up that appeal to me.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
Honestly, I never try to predict where I’ll be in five years or ten years. I feel it’s limiting and after seeing where I’ve ended up sometimes, I could have never guessed that I would be there with my own TV show and 8 books. I wouldn’t have the balls or foresight to dream that big, I think.
Why did you leave Tru? What do you do currently do as their partner?
I cut back at Tru when I was pregnant with my twins because of doctor orders, then went back 3 days a week after the girls were born in 2004. In 2006, after consulting with our partner Rich Melman, Rick and I put staff in place to be able to step away for two years to do 4 restaurants in a Westin in Wheeling. Once those were done, Rick stayed in Wheeling, but I didn’t. But I had replaced myself at Tru to do the project so there was really no job for me in the kitchen at Tru, and the “kids” were doing a great job. So I started doing more outside events to promote Tru to bring in reservations, and that’s my responsibility to this day.
Part of being a successful chef requires constant media exposure, cookbooks, demos, etc. It’s tough work! How do you keep going at it?
It’s pretty much all I do, so every day is different and interesting! Because I don’t have any day to day responsibilities at Tru, it allows me to travel for teaching, demos, book tour, TV appearances, freelance work, etc.
The culinary industry is one tough business, and people are oftentimes quite serious and competitive. But you seem so down to earth and nice—or are you secretly a pitbull on the inside?
[Ha!] No, I’m not a pitbill. I wouldn’t really know how to be. I have my high standards but am able to get them across without being bitchy usually or mean…that’s what my sous chef is for! I am filled with so much joy when I “work” that it’s hard for me to be mean or gruff. I worked for and with plenty of chefs like that, and I don’t think you get the best out of people when you treat them that way. I am that kinder, gentler boss, as a reaction perhaps to having strict scary chefs in the past.
What’s the toughest challenge you’ve ever faced in your culinary and/or personal career?
Doing iron chef was one of the toughest things I’ve done. And then a bar mitzvah that wanted 80 individual hot soufflés served to order.
Why do you think the pastry profession is so female dominated?
I honestly don’t know. I think it’s a newer phenomenon because 50 years ago, they were all men and the culinary staff in general was all men.
At the event, you said you divorced twice. What’s the key to a successful marriage? Not just warm chocolate chip cookies, I’m guessing.
My female customers tell me communication. My male customers say compromise. Being divorced twice, I’m not sure I’m the right person to ask. I think all partnerships are different and need different things. But warm cookies can’t hurt!
You have an Italian husband and you’re Jewish. What kind of culinary creations do you eat during family meals/parties?
Mostly I go for delicious and in season and that I’m excited to make, whatever side of the fence that may come from.
You said you need your daily tea and milk—is there another kind of food you can’t live without?
Probably fried chicken. Yep, fried chicken. Or cheese, most kinds of cheese.
What is your favorite meal of the day?
Brunch. I just love the food and the fact that champagne is completely appropriate with it.
Favorite food trend? Worst food trend?
Donuts or snout to tail pig. But maybe really turkey everything like sausage, burgers, meat loaf, etc.
Fav restaurant in Chicago?
That’s like trying to pick my favorite child! But maybe Mon Ami Gabi for the Dover Sole.