20 questions and a corresponding number of answers, part 2

BY DEBBIE MATTHEWS, The Curious Cook
Posted 7/10/20

Here are the first 10 questions for Chef Virginia Willis. It’s a peek into the mind of a celebrity chef.

When it’s going to be a while before you make a grocery run, what’s your favorite …

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20 questions and a corresponding number of answers, part 2

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Posted

Here are the first 10 questions for Chef Virginia Willis. It’s a peek into the mind of a celebrity chef.

When it’s going to be a while before you make a grocery run, what’s your favorite pantry pandemic meal?

I have developed a recipe for a simple bean salad using canned beans with a mirepoix of onion, carrot, and celery combined with fresh herbs that are good and good for you. I do also keep dried beans on hand, but being able to open a couple of cans for a hearty, healthy side dish is pretty great.

What’s your best food-related activity suggestion for staving off quarantine cabin fever and the resulting mayhem?

I have been fermenting like mad! It’s been a lot of fun and since I am at home more and obviously not traveling, I have a lot more time to babysit fermentation projects. I signed up for a cooking class with Root Kitchens with Dr. Julia Skinner and it was been wonderful. I’ve made kombucha from scratch, including my SCOBY, lots of krauts, and veg, as well as fermented mustard and fire cider. I am curious about the culinary techniques and excited about the health benefits, too.

Many chefs name you as one of their influences. Who is your biggest culinary influence?

Well, that’s very kind. I love to cook, that’s for certain. I would say one of my greatest culinary influences is Jacques Pepin. There is not a time that I watch him on television that I do not learn something. His breadth of knowledge is stunning. I also like his French sensibility and emphasis on technique.

What was the most valuable lesson you learned from working with Nathalie Dupree?

I’ll never forget when she told me “to get my hot little hands off the pastry.” Truly, Nathalie has taught me so much it would be impossible to choose what the most valuable lesson actually is. She is a dear friend and mentor.

Anne Willan?

Test recipes carefully and retest them again and again until they are perfect.

Martha Stewart?

Attention to detail is incredibly important. There’s a “feel good” meme that says “progress not perfection.” I am not too sure Martha would agree.”

Bobby Flay?

As big as a superstar as Bobby is, he has always been very nice. On that note, Julia Child was always very nice. Not everyone is as nice! And, I think it’s important just to try to be nice to people.

Describe cooking in the Chopped kitchen.

HOT! Stressful. I am just glad I didn’t cut myself.

You give your time and skills to many causes. What pandemic-related things are you doing?

One of my leading causes is food insecurity and hunger. The thought of hungry children in one of the wealthiest countries on Earth is criminal. One in four children in the United States could face hunger this year because of the coronavirus. I have been working for years with No Kid Hungry and have tried to do what I can during this crisis. The coronavirus has closed schools nationwide, and millions of vulnerable children have lost the school meals they depend on. America’s kids need us.

If you had a magical pantry that had any item you wanted, regardless of season, what is your ultimate homemade comfort food?

There’s absolutely nothing like a vegetable plate in the summer with butterbeans, corn, tomatoes, and okra — all squished around with mayonnaise-tinged juices. Fresh butterbeans are one of my favorite all-time vegetables from childhood.

Next week is the conclusion of our chat with Chef Willis.

Thanks for your time.

Contact me at debbie@bullcity.mom.

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