Margaret Chen graduated with the highest honor from New York City’s Institute of Culinary Education and went on to work as an intern under Chef Anita Lo. She was trained in French cooking but enjoys incorporating Asian ingredients into dishes. She now works as a private chef for Kitchensurfing where she specializes in plated meals for dinner parties. She is also the founder of Savory Sweet Living, a food blog for recipe development. Margaret created our recipe for Turmeric-Dill Chicken Lettuce Cups with a Wild Rice Salad – which you are cooking up this week!
What made you want to become a chef? Was there an element of your family life growing up that led you to this career choice?
As long as I can remember, food has played an important role in my life. It was customary for my family to get together every Sunday to share a meal together. That was the way we bonded – through food. My grandfather, who is the ultimate foodie in my family, loved to take us out to various restaurants to try different cuisines. I’ve always been fascinated with food and wanted to cook or eat for a living.
What’s the best cooking advice you’ve ever received?
The best cooking advice I received was from my culinary instructor, Chef Chris. Every time we set out to make a dish, he always urged us to “make it beautiful.” This line has been ingrained in my brain and every time I’m working on a dish, I can hear him telling me to “make it beautiful.”
Who or what is behind your culinary inspiration?
I like working with seasonal items. I also get inspired by whatever I have so sometimes I look at the items in my pantry and think “Oh I could make something with what I have.” My inspiration comes from the ingredients.
What’s the first meal you ever learned to cook on your own?
I believe it was a simple stir-fry of Chinese vegetables and steamed fish with ginger and scallions – really basic home cooking.
RECIPE: Miso Cod with Baby Bok Choy
What are the three tools you can’t live without while cooking a meal?
My knife is the most important tool I can’t live without. A sauce/tasting spoon is also important to me as I like to taste my food constantly. It’s really important to have great cooking vessels such as a heavy bottom pots and pans.
What ingredient are you most willing to splurge on?
I like my protein to be top quality and I don’t mind spending a little more money on a well-marbled organic steak or locally raised duck.
What’s one budget item that should be on every home gourmet’s grocery list?
Citrus: lemon, lime or oranges. I love using the rind or zest and, of course, the juice to elevate the flavor of a dish. It’s great for dressing, sauces or simply a splash onto the protein giving it a little freshness and acidity.
What is the best dish you’ve ever made?
I’ve made some pretty good dishes, but I’m constantly challenging myself so I’m not sure which is the best dish I’ve ever made. Maybe the pressed pork belly with kabocha puree, wild roasted mushroom in a hoisin reduction.
Is there a chef that you really admire or look up to?
There are so many amazing chefs that I admire. I have a list of them, but if I have to name one right now, it would be Susur Lee. Maybe it’s because I worked with him recently and he left a deep impression. He’s worked in the kitchen since he was a teen, and worked his way up to be an executive chef and owner. Not only are his hard work and skills impressive, but he is also so generous with his knowledge and respectful of the people he works with. He’s very inquisitive and eager to keep learning, which is truly inspirational.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to an amateur chef?
Learn as much as possible. Don’t think you know it all, because no one does. All the greatest chefs are still constantly learning and evolving.
– Emma Stratigos