Interview – Gale Gand

Gale Gand is a nationally acclaimed pastry chef, James Beard Award winner, Food Network star, successful restaurateur, and celebrated cookbook author. Some things you may not know about Gale? She has a degree in silver and goldsmithing, and owns a root beer company!

Based in Chicago (IL), Gale Gand has seven cookbooks to her name including her most recent release – Gale Gand’s Brunch!: 100 Fantastic Recipes for the Weekend’s Best Meal. The down-to-earth approach she takes in regards to recipes endears her cookbooks to home cooks, who love how she demystifies the secrets behind successful cooking and baking.

Gale Gand is a firm believer in sustainable agriculture and eating locally, and is an active member in several community organizations including Chicago’s Green City Market, Art Smith’s foundation, and Common Threads. As if this isn’t enough to keep her busy she also has three children including a 13 year-old son and 5 year-old twin girls.

While visiting Chicago I got an opportunity to dine at the world renowned restaurant Tru (owned by Gale Gand, Rick Tramonto & Rich Melman), and was thrilled when Gale managed to find time in her busy schedule to chat with me about her latest cookbook.

What was the inspiration behind your cookbook, Gale Gand’s Brunch?
As a professional chef and a restaurateur I grew accustomed to throwing these elaborate dinner parties for friends and family, but then five years ago I gave birth to twins and my world completely changed! I quickly found that late night dinner parties didn’t work for our lifestyle anymore – I could barely stay awake! It was also not a convenient setting for small children who aren’t going to patiently sit through a multi-course meal. And then I came up with the idea of early entertaining; in particular brunch! The time of day and informal nature of brunch compliments a family centric lifestyle, so that you don’t have to exclude kids from the meal or its preparation. Besides…who doesn’t love breakfast food?!

At first glance what strikes me most about Brunch! is the way in which you incorporate unexpected twists with traditional recipes. For example; using brown sugar instead of granulated in your hot cocoa. Or adding a splash of lime juice and grenadine to a breakfast staple like fresh orange juice. These seem like such common sense ideas and yet you rarely see this type of spin on breakfast classics. How do you come up with the concepts for new twists such as these?
This is the way in which I do all of my cooking. I’m not someone who strives to constantly create new recipes. Instead I prefer to take something familiar and comforting that you already know, and give it a ‘quarter’ twist so that it is still recognizable but has been freshened up a bit. This allows dishes to become exciting and new all over again!

In the past, success in the food industry came about through hard work, kitchen apprenticeship and working your way up from the bottom. Nowadays the world is virtually littered with culinary schools. How much of an importance do you place on culinary education vs. good ol’ fashioned experience in today’s market?
I’m still of the school of thought that while either path is good, culinary success has more to do with your passion and your drive and your obsession with food than what is on your resume. I don’t have a formal culinary education, so I know for a fact that you can make it in this industry without spending a fortune on schooling. The important thing to remember if you decide to work your way up from the bottom is to find the right chef and mentor. If I see someone who has a lot of drive and obviously loves the food industry, someone who doesn’t think about anything outside of food and lights up when they walk into a kitchen…I get excited. You can’t teach passion!

How do pastry chefs not weigh 5,000 lbs?! I have a number of dessert cookbooks to review and I’m scared for my waistline. What goes into recipe development for pastry chefs?
Part of it is that it’s really physical work! You’re lifting 100lb sacks of flour. You’re constantly moving, and you have no time to eat. My husband laughs at me when I come home from work and I’m starving! We might be around food all day but there’s never any time to indulge. Often I’ll just run into the cooler and grab a couple of carrots. I don’t have time to stop and make a sandwich!

I know you just returned home after teaching a cooking class. Do you see teaching as an important part of your future endeavours?
It’s something I really enjoy doing, and as I get older I think my continued life experiences allow me to become a better teacher. I love being around enthusiastic young cooks!

You used to host “Sweet Dreams” on the Foodnetwork. Would you like to have your own television show again?
Absolutely! I loved having my own show and I’m extremely proud of the fact that I was the first pastry chef to have their own all dessert television series. But juggling a family with small children at home combined with the intensity of taping 30 episodes within a two week period, has meant that any new television projects have been put on hold for the time being. However, I’m hoping once the twins are in grade one that I’ll have more time to focus on hosting a new show!

We’re seeing a real movement taking place in terms of getting the younger generations back into the kitchen and cooking (such as with Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution). How do you think we should best educate our youth about healthy eating habits?
I think it’s a combo of being more active and steering our kids away from highly processed foods. This doesn’t necessarily mean that parents need to cook more, but we need to get better quality ingredients into people’s homes and teach them how to buy different foods without relying on processed items.

When I’m stressed or wanting a temporary escape from my reality, I head to my kitchen and do some baking. How do you decompress after a stressful day?
Partially the same way – I love baking, what can I say?! Another way I unwind is to consume a fried egg sandwich and rootbeer float. Pure heaven! I also love gardening, and playing with my kids which always reminds me of what’s important and what really matters to me the most.

I was talking with Chef Paul Kahan and he said microgreens are one of his biggest pet peeves. What culinary trend drives you nuts?
One of the things I can’t stand is when pastry chefs use flavoured liqueurs instead of the real flavour. For example; choosing Grand Marnier over an actual orange. Drives me crazy! There is no excuse not to use real flavours. Another irritation is when you go into a restaurant that professes to be ‘local’ and they have New Zealand lamb on the menu, or places that don’t use real butter or real cream. Argh!

In 1996 Julia Child asked you to appear on two episodes of the PBS show, Baking with Julia. What was it like to cook with this culinary icon?
It was a really crazy experience for me, because I was asked to make a phyllo dish but when Julia first came down to the prep kitchen she said “oh darling I can’t wait to hear all about phyllo, I can’t wait to learn!” I had this weird moment where I felt like the student became the teacher and I wasn’t prepared for that role reversal…at all! But she was such a warm and delightful person to work with…and super funny! It was an incredible experience.

What was the first cookbook you ever owned?
Well my mother had The Settlement Cookbook, which at the time was a popular gift for brides and was the first cookbook I ever used. But the first book I bought was The Blue Strawberry Cookbook. It was from a restaurant by the same name, with the subtitle of “cooking brilliantly without recipes” and immediately I gravitated towards that style of cooking.

What is your favourite late-night snack after a long day of work?
A fried egg sandwich on rye bread made by my husband and a glass of Rosé wine! Cold fried chicken is another one of my favourites!

Gale Gand is a nationally acclaimed pastry chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, television personality, root beer maker, and mom. For more information please visit