We take a lot of pride in our employees here at Stonewall Kitchen, and we look forward to celebrating their skills, interests and accomplishments in a new spotlight series on The Pantry called “We’re Jammin’.” To kick things off, we interviewed Kate Ellingwood, Executive Chef Instructor at the Stonewall Kitchen Cooking School.
Prior to attending the University of New Hampshire and the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts Professional Pastry program, Kate spent a decade working as an aircraft mechanic for the United States Air Force. She started her culinary career as an assistant pastry chef and assisted in developing a dessert menu from scratch. Today, Kate enjoys both cooking and teaching others at the Cooking School.
Q: Prior to starting your career in the food and restaurant industry, you worked as an aircraft mechanic for the United States Air Force. What prompted you to make such a dramatic career move?
I committed to the Air Force during my junior year of high school. I think most of all, it was a way for me to get out and see what the world had to offer. Also, I was so indecisive about things during that time—it seemed like the only reasonable option. Although I had minimal idea what I was in for when joining, I ultimately learned to love my job as a crew chief.
Being in the kitchen is in many ways similar to working on the flight line: you are always on your feet, and there is always that push to reach a deadline. Ten years is one half of a full military career, and for me, it was the time when I would force myself to make a decision: either stay in and retire militarily, or move on and see what else is out there. When I moved to New Hampshire from my first duty station in North Dakota, I started taking classes at the University of New Hampshire. I began studying Dietetics not only based on general interest, but because I believe that so much can stem from good nutrition. About halfway through, I started to realize that maybe the degree was a bit too ‘science-based’ for me—I wanted the freedom to be a little bit more creative in whatever it was that I sought out to pursue, and so I started to explore other pathways. Long story short, the combination of meeting a good friend who had gone to pastry school previously, plus a couple of hands-on cooking classes are what encouraged me to start looking at cooking schools. The rest is history!
Q: Are there any learnings you took from your time at USAF that prepared you to be a chef?
The three core values in the Air Force are: 1) Integrity First, 2) Service before Self, and 3) Excellence in all you do. I have really relied upon these, especially since taking on a management-based position. They are a constant reminder that as a chef, you have to be truthful to what you know (and what you don’t!), to always be mindful that what you are preparing has a purpose (to feed others!), and to consistently aim to improve upon your skills, to keep learning everyday, and to do your best to stay on top of this ever-changing culinary world.
Q: You completed the Professional Pastry Program at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. What drew you towards desserts?
I joke during the introduction of my classes that there isn’t one pastry that I will not try. That is the truth! Plus, I’ve always loved to bake, so this felt like the natural path to take.
Q: What is your favorite style of food to prepare when you’re cooking at home?
We (my boyfriend and I) are pretty simple people, and a typical meal for us usually consists of a basic protein, grain and vegetable most nights. I’ve taken an interest in Asian cooking as of late, so have been experimenting a bit there. For the most part, time at home is spent practicing new techniques and sharpening the old ones.
Q: As the Stonewall Kitchen Executive Chef Instructor, what are some of your day-to-day responsibilities?
The biggest part of my job is the food ordering. Each recipe has to be gone through with a fine tooth comb to see not only what we will be needing, but how much of it, where it needs to come from, and how far in advance we will need it. All while maintaining food cost. When I’m not ordering, I’m organizing. Everybody jokes about my obsession with the label-maker and the laminating machine, but I mostly do it because it makes my job [of ordering] so much easier and much more efficient. Aside from those responsibilities, I also teach, which requires writing recipes for my own classes, plus making sure that the rest of our in-house and guest chefs for any given week submit theirs in a timely manner.
Q: Which of the many classes you’ve taught at Stonewall Kitchen has been your favorite?
This is a tough question! My memory always wanders back to an Italian-based class I did in the springtime. It was a huge menu, and the class was sold out early on. There was a pizza bianca, chicken piccata, homemade pasta with a homemade sauce, broccoli rabe with capicola, and chocolate-dipped cannolis! I remember sweating for about a week straight because it was a lot to cover in an hour and a half, but somehow, the team made it work (and the cannolis were out of this world!).
Q: Do you have any advice for guests who can’t decide which Cooking School class to attend?
Don’t just settle. We do our very best not to repeat menus, and there is guaranteed, one that will fit your needs (and your likes!) out there. Plus, we always encourage our guests to suggest ideas on classes that they would like to see in the future by filling out the assessment forms—it’s not a hoax, we really do read each and every single one of them!
If you’re interested in taking a class with Kate in our Cooking School, check out her remaining classes for the year!