Meredith Phillips – Chef & Author

Modernizing Old Recipes

Meredith Phillips is a make-up artist, model, writer and chef extraordinaire! Her claim to fame was being the bachelorette on the second season of the ABC-TV show The Bachelorette. Quite a multi-talented woman wrapped up in very lovely package. We had the chance to discuss her book, Date Night Cookbook and learn much more about Meredith, the talented and seasoned chef. Her soft voice belies her energy and her calm demeanor sends off a Zen vibe, but once you start talking with her about one of her passions, you can feel the creative flow running and can tell by her animation that she loves the subject of food and cooking. About Face found out quite a bit more about Meredith and her love of cooking and modernizing old recipes.

I did some research on you and learned a little bit about your cookbook. I love the recipes in your cookbook. They are on the gourmet side without being ridiculous to prepare. They are “doable” gourmet recipes.

And with a lot of variations!

I love it.  Like your French onion soup, loved the tip about the nutmeg! It’s little things that make your recipes unique.  I know you went to the New School of Cooking.  Did you enjoy it?

I did, I actually met my boyfriend of six or seven years there.  That’s how we decided to write the book. It was our idea because we loved to cook together so much. It’s a lot easier to cook for a family, but to cook together? I think there’s something special about that. The idea of a date night cookbook was kind of like we had date nights every Tuesday.

Why Tuesday?  Was that one of your days off?

That was one of the days we went to school. After classes, we would get sushi from across the street and when we graduated from school that was one of our nights.

What made you decide to go to culinary school in the first place?

Always was a passion of mine to cook and learn all about the culinary world.  I grew up in a family that loved to cook.  A lot of recipes in the book are definitely tweaked from my mom’s version. But some of the recipes were really bland. It just seemed like the next natural step, and I also believe that it should be a staple. Everyone should know how to cook something. It’s like driving a car! You know, you’ve got to know how to feed yourself and feed others, and to do it well? It’s a skill to have. You’re going to feed yourself forever, why not learn that technique?  I love it.

You said you came from a family that loved cooking. I can imagine that things centered around the kitchen? What was it like growing up?
Always, my mom was in the kitchen or my dad was on a grill. My parents bought my brother and I… I can’t remember the name of the cookbook, but it was for kids. The recipes were ridiculous but we loved to cook little things up for my parents out of that cookbook. I wish I could remember the name of it. It was so cute. It was the center of the house. It wasn’t the living room, it wasn’t the TV, it was the kitchen. Having memories of them there, since they aren’t around anymore, is just awesome. We had a huge backyard so we were always grilling. Mom always made these huge salads that I just absolutely loved because we lived in California for so long. That’s one thing Portland is, I think, missing.  I wish Portland had stuff like that. There isn’t the California cuisine, I get it, because we’re not California, but it would be nice to have stuff like that. Portland is very health conscious. It might be one of my goals to open up something like that.

Did your parents entertain a lot?

Just us kids. Everyone has family for the holidays and that was a big eating factor, huge Thanksgiving dinners and Christmas. It is a lot, but I enjoy it.  But I haven’t had to do it for years like she did.

What is one of the first things you remember cooking or making?

Probably goulash. Isn’t that weird?

And was that a recipe from the cookbook from when you were a kid?

It was from my mom’s cookbook, an old school recipe that she made all the time so I loved it and a lot of it. I’m still trying to find her recipe books.

That is one of the things I did keep, my mom’s recipe files. You can’t replace that.

Or the handwriting

What was a go-to dish that you remember your mom cooking that was like a signature dish for her.  Did she have one?

Honestly I would probably say the goulash.  She made that a lot, I don’t know why, because maybe it was easy?  I know it can be difficult to make.

What would you say is your biggest childhood food memories? An occasion or dinner, something that whenever you see or smell it, it always just takes you back.

That would probably be my mom’s flank steak, and always my mom’s cheesy potatoes (that were basically like frozen hash browns, like, oh god, it was so ghetto-y delicious) and a huge salad.  I can’t find the recipe but I can probably remember it.

Are you good at recreating recipes?

I love to do that actually.  I love to transform them into something else.

So if I went to your house, what herbs would I find in your garden?

Cilantro for sure, and a lot of it, I need that, parsley, chives, rosemary, and probably thyme.  My brother has my big rosemary plant, I will be getting that back!

What was your ideal date night when it came to a meal?  What was your go-to meal you loved to prepare?

I love making homemade soup. Love!  And a salad with shaved parmesan. Any kind of soup, French onion, cauliflower soup, that’s in my recipe, I make it a little bit special by putting in a little truffle oil.  I make my homemade croutons. That’s just the simplicity of it.  The best part is letting all the flavors melt together.

How long ago did your mom and dad pass away?

My mom passed away, I can’t believe it, about two years ago, and my dad passed away in 2008.

So was your mom your go-to person when you had questions about cooking?

Yeah, pretty much.

When you first left home, who would you go to?
My mom, and when she couldn’t answer it, her mom.  That was one of those little phone trees.  It could be anywhere from “I don’t have this spice,” to “What I can replace this with.,” “How do I get spaghetti sauce out of this?” My grandma always knew how.

Old school! So was your grandma a part of your growing up?  Did she live around you?

Yup. She actually lived over on this side over by UP [University of Portland] She was the baker of the family.

I’ve never been a baker.  Cookies, I’ll bake a pie sometimes, but I just never measure.

I mean following recipes never have to be exact, just to your liking. I think measures are just guidelines.

What does your kitchen look like?  Does it have a lot of fancy equipment? Tell me about it.

I have a lot of fancy equipment in storage.  I have a very small kitchen at the moment so I have to use just the basics to get by, so a lot of pots and pans are in my oven. I don’t love it, but I’m hoping to get a house and get a bigger kitchen at least.  I do have double and triple of some things, but there are some things I can’t live without, like my chef knives.

What would you say the most important piece of equipment in a kitchen is?
A sharpened chef knife. Like, three of four different ones.  Absolutely, hands down, the most important thing for me

I agree.  What are some of the spices you could not live without?
Definitely cumin. Chinese five spice, which I think is amazing.  A lot of people don’t use it but it’s very strong.  I love them all. You can use too much of a spice.  I put way too much tarragon in a dish when I was a kid and I can’t use it to this day!  Over-spicing is not good!

What was the first meal you ever made a boyfriend and how did it turn out?
I don’t remember.  It would either have to be homemade pizza or soup.  Soup is my go-to, I don’t know why, it just is. You can make it as healthy or unhealthy as you want.

Do you watch any reality cooking shows?  Would you ever consider being on one?
I got a call from New York and they wanted me to be on Chopped.  I said I would love to, but they thought I still lived in New York, and they wanted someone local this time.  I would’ve loved that.

Okay, I was going to ask you Top Chef, Hell’s Kitchen, Master Chef or Chopped?
Chopped.

Why’s that?
I like the challenge of throwing different things in there and using them.  And I’m competitive.  It works to my advantage.

I would love to see you on that show. That would be so awesome.

It was just so funny that they called.  I mean, I religiously love that show.  I mean throwing everything together, some of the ingredients are scary, but imagine how fun that would be!

Do you ever get feedback on your book?
I do, it is exactly what I wanted my book to be: Simple but it doesn’t taste simple.  I use it every day.

Merdith in KitchenAre you planning on writing another cookbook or memoirs?

I’ve thought about writing another cookbook, but I would like to be settled in my living situation first; to have my kitchen settled to my liking.  I’ve also thought about writing a book about my family and my kitchen.  I actually had an idea for my next cookbook where basically it has a section for my mom’s old school recipes that aren’t changed and after that, the recipes to show you how to make it up to date.  Then my grandmother’s recipes, old school, and how to make those up to date.

That’s a really neat idea.
My aunt is more of a baker, so that’ll be her little section.  I’ll have to ask someone to help me with the baking.

If you could do anything from your culinary experience, what would be your ideal situation?
I worked as an executive for a catering company down at Venice Beach called Electric Avenue Chef.  I worked with them for at least four years.  We basically only catered to A-Lister photo shoots and movie premiers, so I got to learn a lot more from that experience.

What’s the most outrageous request you ever got?
The whole Paleo diet thing. It was just outlandish. Vegetables had to be cut a certain way or shape.  Just crazy stuff…  At that point, maybe bring your own lunch!  I would love to be a personal chef, or eventually open up my own place, very small, and just one of those places where once you’re out, you’re out.  So you’d have to get there early to get the specials.

What would you say the style of the Northwest is compared to your style.  
For me, it’s heavier. I really don’t know how to describe it.  I mean coming from California for so many years, I just think it could be lighter, you know, a lot of heavy fish.

Like fatty fish or like with sauces?
With sauces and a lot of flavor.  I’m not saying there’s no fresh recipes here, it just feels like no one ventures off with food types.

What is your favorite type of food then? What are your cravings usually for?
It’s simple, like I said.  Cilantro rice with lime, and I would do my own chicken, oven-roasted or pan-roasted.  I make my own black beans that I learned how to make in Brazil, heavy on the vinegar side, mango in it, avocado. A lot of Mexican! I make my own chips.  And a lot of cilantro!

You really do like Latin American food.  Is that from being from California for so long or is that where it’s slanted towards?
I spent a month in Brazil and absolutely loved it but I think it was always slanted towards that type of food.

Did you go to Brazil to learn to cook or go for a vacation?
I went there after the show (The Bachlorette) with Ian [McKee] and I really got to taste the variety of things. We went to an island and I ended up loving the food from there.

Is there anything that you want us to know about?
I’m always working on new recipes, I’m modeling, and just trying to get settled.  I need to get my resume out there and I would like to cater with one other person.

What is it like to be on the sets {of TV shows}?
If I ever see a breakfast burrito, I’m out.  They’re boring and are made by another company.  When I was an executive chef in Venice, we cut up all of our own vegetables in the morning.  We would do omelets and skillets on site so it would be fresh for everyone.  If anyone didn’t want eggs, we have other foods to provide them. From what I was used to doing since it was so high end, I think that effort could be better here.  I know people don’t have the budget for it, but the effort pays for it.

I don’t think it takes a lot of money to provide healthy food.
Especially when you’re an actor and you’re there for long hours.

Who do you follow?  Who do you look up to?
Definitely Jamie Oliver. I don’t have cable.  I don’t watch the Food Network anymore. Maybe Ina Garten.

Do you ever watch Chef Ramsay?
I do like his stuff that’s shot in the UK.  Because I feel the stuff shot here isn’t like him.

So the Master Chef as opposed Hell’s Kitchen? Because he’s kinder, gentler, softer. The other one is a dog eat dog world.
Exactly.

If you can’t take this now, then you can’t take the pressure.  One is promoting and elevating a single person up as the next up and coming, so he’s gentler.  I like that.  Hell’s Kitchen is amusing to me, however!
I can’t handle the yelling myself.  I can’t do it.

Is there anything you want us to know that you think is out there that is not a true story?  What kind of picture do you want people to have of you?  Who is Meredith?
I don’t really read about myself, because I think unless you know me personally, you don’t have a say in who you think I am. I am a person who is a very creative thinker, a problem solver, I’m a visual person, I’m a hands on person.  I’m a homebody, and I’m happy to be where I am today. I think eating should be enjoyable.  And not the Paleo diet!  Feed yourself.  Stop worrying.

Very good advice.

 

About The Author: Jewel Mignon