Interview with Chef Michelle Gurbal

Michelle is one of the runners up from our last Chef Uniforms NRA Contest back in April, as well as a model chef. That made July’s Chef of the Month decision a very easy one! Below is a little biography, followed by our interview and a little something extra for our readers.

A little about Michelle

Michelle grew up in Florida, and is a single mother of a beautiful daughter and handsome son. She is a sister to two older brothers and two younger brothers.  Her passion for cooking began as a child, spending time in the kitchen watching her mother and grandmother. While her brothers were watching cartoons, she was watching the greats: Julia Child, Graham Kerr, and let’s not forget Justin Wilson.

Michelle told us, “I received my very first cook book when I was 14. My Mom got it for me with green stamps.  I remember the day she and I sat down and filled all the green stamp books, and when we were done, we counted them and she handed me the catalog and said, pick something, and all I remember seeing in that book was “The Better Homes and Garden Cookbook.”  I don’t think it was much of a surprise to my Mother.  That was the start of the rather large collection of cookbooks that continue to grow today.”

At the age of 16, Michelle was lucky enough to be taught the art of Real Italian cooking by the famous boxer, Jake LaMotta, also known as “The Raging Bull”.  It was then that she learned that true Italians say “Gravy”, not “sauce”.

Over the course of her life she has been in and out of the food industry working in restaurants and catering while working towards a degree in Design from Penn State University.  Prior to pursuing her career in culinary arts full time, she worked as a residential designer for 15+ years, still catering on the side, because of her love and passion for cooking.

“ When the housing market took a fall I was faced with the decision of what am I going to do now to support myself and children, and everyone had the same answer for me. “What do you mean, ‘What are you going to do now?’ You’re going to do what you love and do best, COOK!”

“With many years of experience in the Restaurant, lounge and full service catering business,  I consider myself to be self-taught. My work with many great local chefs and cooks over the years has influenced and added to my evolution as a chef.”

“So here I am now living a dream.  Cooking full-time, creating foods that people love. I have always loved watching people enjoy the food I prepared for them, and I wait for the sounds they make when tasting it for the first time and the occasional roll the eyes to the back of their heads is a huge plus.”

The Interview

1. What made you decide to become a chef?

I have been cooking since I was 8 years old. I went to PSU and have a degree in Design and was a residential designer for 15 years. I did small catering jobs on the side, only because I love to cook. When the housing market took a bad hit I was pretty much out of a job, and so I decided to turn to my one true love to make a living and I have never been happier.

2. What education or experience would you recommend for aspiring chefs?

Watch and ask questions to everyone you see cook, or who you know that cooks. Everyone has special techniques and short cuts they can share, some of the best cooks are those who have learned through life’s trial and errors. The only dumb questions are the ones that aren’t asked.

3. What would you recommend as far as on-the-job training?

Work in every aspect of the restaurant field; front and back of the house.  You will have more knowledge and compassion for your fellow co-workers.  This will help you become the very best Executive chef because you will know what everyone’s part is and what they go through to have a smoother-running operation in both the front and in the back of the house.

4. What is your greatest challenge in getting the ingredients you need?

When you want to buy local, a lot of the time it is just impossible. When you want fresh ingredients all the time – sometimes that just is not an option.

5. Has the price of energy and fuel affected your industry?

Yes it has. Food venders have to charge more because they still have to transport the food from place to place, and that has to be passed down the line.

6. Do you see new dining trends surfacing?

I think people are coming around as to knowing that food really does taste better when it is not cooked to death.

7. What fabric and style of chef uniform do you enjoy wearing the most?

I love the cotton blend chef coat with a ¾ length sleeve.

8. Do you enjoy dining out on your free time?

Oh yes most definitely. It helps in getting your juices flowing tasting other cuisine.

9. Do you try to experience your competitors’ food? Do you ever get ideas from them?

Yes, and sometimes it also reassures me that what I am doing is the right thing.

10. Do you think it is important to visit the markets rather than just have standard orders?

Oh yes, absolutely…

11. How do you test a new recipe without putting it on the permanent menu?

I make them for the employees and family and friends. They will be most honest with you because they want you to succeed.

12. Do you notice any resistance to the unhealthier dishes?

No, people are going to eat what appeals to them.

13. What is your advice for planning a menu for a new restaurant?

Cook what you like and what you’re good at. Also check out what other restaurants in the area are serving and that too will help you.

14. Can you offer some advice for aspiring chefs?

Follow your heart. Cook what you like and step out of your comfort zone often.

15. Would you please send us a recipe for our readers?

Chicken Milano

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Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup chicken broth, divided
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • 8 ounces dry fettuccini pasta

Directions

  1. In a large saucepan over low heat, melt butter; add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes and 3/4 cup of the chicken broth; increase to medium heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, for about 10 minutes or until the tomatoes are tender. Add the cream and bring to a boil; stirring. Simmer over medium heat until the sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.
  2. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. In a large skillet over medium heat, warm oil and sauté chicken. Press on chicken occasionally with a slotted spatula. Cook for about 4 minutes per side or until the meat feels springy and is no longer pink inside. Transfer to a board; cover and keep warm. Discard the fat from the skillet.
  3. In the same skillet, over medium heat, bring 1/4 cup chicken broth to a boil; stirring the pan juices. Reduce slightly and add to the cream sauce; stir in basil and adjust seasonings to taste.
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add fettuccine and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain, transfer to a bowl and toss with 3 to 4 tablespoons of the sauce.
  5. Cut each chicken breast into 2 to 3 diagonal slices. Reheat the sauce gently if needed. Transfer the pasta to serving plates; top with chicken and coat with the cream sauce; serve.

Since Michelle was so happy to participate with us and stood out in the competition, we decided to give her a $25 Chef Uniforms Gift Card! Congratulations, Michelle, and thank you for participating with us!

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One Comment on “Interview with Chef Michelle Gurbal”

  1. Robert Peterson August 23, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    Thank you for this blog. And definitely thanks for the recipe; I have been craving chicken, and this recipe really looks taste.
    I will most assuredly make it tomorrow.

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