Sometimes you just get a feeling about people. When I emailed Chef DiSanto to set up this interview she was in Atlanta, visiting with her ill father, yet took the time to send me a rather amusing email about how we could do the interview as she was driving home in the car with her little ones, but that it might be better to wait. No problem, so we set it up at her Centerville kitchen and she asked me what my favorite foods were. Of course anyone who knows me can answer this- CHOCOLATE!
I arrived on a snowy morning to her office at The Easy Way Out and Chef greeted me graciously and we headed back to her kitchen, which was spotless and well organized. We made the usual getting to know you chit chat and in no time at all I was charmed. And then she went to the cooler to pull out a batter she’d made so it could cook while we talked. A molten chocolate lava cake-woo hoo-she knows how to please! Of course, as we got to question 2 and her dread of baking I felt pretty guilty- she’d done what she hated most, just to make a good impression on me!
A classically trained chef, she ran her own catering business in Connecticut, then moved to Europe and then came to Dayton about 3 years ago (you can read her official bio here). She’s a guerrilla marketer, who started her current business by talking to total strangers about her passion and skill for making good food. And having spent just a couple hours with her, it’s easy to see why she’s making such a big impression on folks, in such a short time in the region.
As we went through the questions over a spread of bleu cheese stuffed figs with balsamic vinaigrette, marinated mushrooms, shortbread cookies and chips with her own special salsa (which by the way was so flavorful and she’ll soon be selling it commercially), it was so easy to feel Chef Jenn’s passion for food and cooking. Right in the middle of a question, she’d sit in anticipation as I bit into a taste and wait and watch for my reaction. She genuinely wanted me to get as much pleasure out of eating the food as she gets from cooking it. And I did!
She told me the story of how she ended up teaching at Dorothy Lane Market School of Cooking– she was ordering fish at the seafood counter, and as a true gourmet cook, wanted it whole- head and all. A gentleman walked by, heard her talking and asked if she was a chef. I have to believe he too was blown away by her enthusiasm for great, fresh ingredients because he turned out to be a DLM big wig and just a couple short weeks later she was teaching her first class. Now she teaches 5 or 6 a month, and be warned, they sell out quickly. She teaches, caters events, prepares gourmet meals for you to purchase and eventually, when her children are older, she’ll have a full service shop where you can pick out all your ingredients and she’ll whip them into a fabulous, mouth watering menu.
We laughed and talked so much, I felt guilty for taking up so much of her time. But not so guilty I didn’t enjoy my chocolate cake! Hope you get the warm feeling I got meeting Chef Jenn when you read this:
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with?
There are so many I love! Saffron, truffles, fresh morels, tomatoes, olives, smoked paprika, really, really good olive oil…so many more I love, but I’ll stop here. Oh, and fresh herbs!
What ingredient do you dread?
I don’t really dread an ingredient, so much but I don’t enjoy precise baking with complicated recipes. I will do it when I have to but I don’t love it. I do however love baking when it comes to breads and foccacias as they give you a little more freedom.
What’s your favorite dish to make?
So many tapas dishes I could not begin to mention them all-it’s my favorite type of meal to cook and my favorite way to eat…small tastes of big flavors. If I had to pick a bigger dish I would say paella because it really is an art to me or osso bucco because I just love braised dishes. Braising is really all about creating a relationship with food. You combine flavors, it’s a slow cooking method that tenderizes the meat and it simmers and the smells flirt with you, building you up for the big taste finish.
What’s your favorite pig out food?
Is wine a food? Ok, I guess I would have to say pizza or really good chewy bread with great quality herb butter…and wines of course. I’m really into Spanish wines lately- I like really hearty full bodies reds with lots of tannins.
I’m not a wine snob I just like good wine!
What restaurant, other than your own do you like to dine at in the Miami Valley?
I love Meadowlark, Rue Dumaine, The Winds, El Meson to name a few. Oh yeah and Amelia’s Bistro in Bellbrook and Pasha Grille at The Greene.
What’s your best advice for home chefs?
Don’t get so caught up in a recipe-it is merely a guideline-at least in cooking! Relax, have fun and try new things. Also, always start with the best ingredients to end with a great dish. Also if you are making yourself crazy trying to impress a dinner guest, they they may not really be a friend…
If you could invite any 4 guests to a dinner party who would they be and why?
As you can see there is a theme here…I can’t limit my answers…
First would be my husband, Jim, 4 year old daughter Eva and 2 year old son Max…but my kids wouldn’t be picky eaters at this dinner party. I would also always love to have dinner with my mother and father and six sisters anytime-great food was always a way of life for us growing up. I would also love to have dinner with Julia Child, but what chef wouldn’t? I would also love to have dinner with Shirley O. Corriher (author and food scientist)- oh the stories she has and the knowledge she has is amazing to me. Plus she is so funny and down to earth.
Who do you look up to in the industry and why?
Again…so many and I truly believe that you can learn from anyone and everyone. But here are a few:
Alice Waters for how she pioneered the importance of locally grown fresh food
Julia Child-again what chef- especially female chef-doesn’t look up to her?
Jose Andres who master the art of tapas beautifully everyday
and locally Chef Wiley form Meadowlark for running a great restaurant with great food and just being a great person. Chef Anne Kearney from Rue Dumaine for being so incredibly talented, passionate and gracious all at the same time. Chef Carrie Walters the corporate chef at DLM for being so passionate about food and bringing it to life so beautifully in a more challenging type of food service-dishes that are not made to order.. Also any of the gang at DLM-The Mayne family (who own Dorothy Lane Market) is so passionate about food and this translates so beautifully through all of their employees to the customers- I love to shop there!
What do you do in the Miami Valley on a day off?
Spend time with my family. We absolutely love all the free parks in the Miami Valley. It’s one of the things that really made us love Dayton. After being in Europe where you pay for everything, even to pee, it’s amazing the abundance of open green space. We love to spend a day in Yellow Springs and at Young’s Jersey Dairy. The Boonshoft Museum has also been a wonderful place to explore with my kids.
Share a kitchen disaster, lucky break or other interesting story:
We all have a kitchen disaster story but I am pretty good about recovering, picking myself back up and laughing it off. There was the time I catered for surprise birthday party for a client. He said there would be about 50 people so we planned the menu to do tapas and then paella for the main meal. Then a few days before the party, he called and said everyone was so exited about the concept of the party they all decided to rsvp so now the count was up to well over 100. Ok-no problem, you have to be flexible in catering. This was to be set outside but I only had an our after he got his wife out of the house to set up…the bar, the tables, the buffet tables for the tapas and burners foteh 5 large paella pans that I would be using. He didn’t want to have a tent because his wife would obviously figure out something was happening. Mission accomplished on time and the client was thrilled, but as I was cooking paella out of nowhere it started to rain. One of my assistants very politely asked if we should postpone or move into the garage, but I was forming the perfect crust on the paella, so we held umbrellas over the paella to keep it protected, while I got completely soaked in my chef whites. Just as the paella was ready, the rain stopped the guests came back outside and enjoyed the meal. The guest had a blast, thoroughly enjoyed the party and I had a great laugh!
And of course as I left Chef Jenn’s kitchen that snowy day, she chased me out to the car with one more chocolate dessert for later. And that reinforced that first feeling I had about her- this lady knows how to charm anyone, and she’s real!