In the Kitchen with Celebrity Chef Katy Sparks

By Fabiana Santana

pic1Celeb chef and culinary consultant Katy Sparks certainly knows how to create some heat in a kitchen.  A Food & Wine Best New Chef award recipient in 1998, she has sharpened her knives at Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill and Bolo and she acted as Executive Chef at SoHo restaurantQuilty’s – which earned two stars from the New York Times –  from 1997 until it closed in 2002.

She went on to help open one of New York’s best gourmet markets, Balducci’s. She published her first cookbook, Sparks in the Kitchen  – named one of the 25 best cookbooks of 2006 by Food & Wine – in late 2005 and now runs her own business called Katy Sparks Culinary Consulting which allows her to work with restaurants (like the highly anticipated NYC fresh market restaurant 10 Downing) to upgrade their menu and bring sustainable cooking to their kitchen.

But the business owner and chef still finds time to enjoy a glass of wine and a home cooked meal for herself. Focusing on premium ingredients is the key for her, and it should be for you, too. After all, you’re worth it!

How did you choose the recipes for Sparks in the Kitchen?

It was a difficult process of elimination because there were so many recipes I wanted to include, but I also wanted to come up with new ideas just for the book.  Basically I made long lists and then made an effort to have a range of dishes from very easy to more complicated.  I also wanted to make sure that the recipes would complement each other and not be too expensive to make.

What is your favorite recipe in the book?

My Grandmother’s recipe for Maryland Crab Cakes.  She was from Baltimore and I have so many fond memories of her making these simple and elegant crab cakes that are all about the crab- very little fillers.

What is your favorite childhood memory of food?

I have so many, but my favorite memories are of foraging for wild mushrooms or edible plants with my father, Kim, who was a wonderful naturalist and knew every edible plant on our 60 acre farm in Vermont.

How does your home cooking differ from your work cooking?

My home cooking is much more concerned with speed.  At the end of the day I want to be able to spend just up to 30 minutes making dinner whether it is for four, two or one.  But mainly the food is very similar: I shop at farmer’s markets as much as possible for both arenas and I use a lot of fresh herbs, interesting spices and healthy whole grains, beans, etc.  I keep salt and fat to a minimum but not to the point of sacrificing flavor at all.

And what kind of a kitchen do you run – very organized and disciplined or freer flowing?

I love organization, but I’m not willing to be a drill sargeant to get there.  I like the people around me to feel appreciated while at the same time making sure that everything is done to my exacting specifications- so a little bit of both I think.

In your opinion, what are the home cook’s must have tools in the kitchen?

There are really so few must have tools.  Several sharp knives of different sizes and the sharpness is really important.  A line of non-reactive heavy gauge cookware that isn’t aluminum and a really strong blender like a vita mix.

The pantry and fridge items  that should always be on hand?

You have to have good olive oil, sherry vinegar, anchovies, olives, dry-cured sausage like chorizo or salami, sheep’s milk cheese, pequillo peppers, nuts, quinoa, fresh whole spices (cumin, coriander, tellicherry black pepper, dried chilis, fennel seed, curry powder) coconut milk, ginger, shallots, citrus fruits, fresh basil, cilantro, parsley, thyme, rosemary. Whole wheat pasta.

What is your favorite make at home meal for one?

Pasta carbonnara, a green salad and a glass of wine.

Do you have any tips for home cooks shopping for one?

Don’t be shy about striking up a relationship with the grocery store’s department managers.  If they know you, they will split things for you.

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