Hell’s Kitchen: Autumn Lewis
Hometown: Chicago, IL
Occupation: Personal Chef, North Hollywood, CA
What was your first job in a kitchen?
To graduate from culinary school most schools require that you complete a three month internship. I had an amazing experience working the line at a French bistro in Chicago called La Sardine. The kitchen staff and servers became my second family. I ended up staying much longer than three months, I worked at the restaurant throughout my time in culinary school.
What was your first restaurant job?
My best job was actually working part-time for a high end catering company in Chicago. I had the opportunity to see how it is possible to cook fine dining food on a large scale, some events were as large as 800 people. It is amazing to see what it takes behind the scenes to pull of these types of lavish events. In some instances as many as 200 servers and cooks would be running around in what I would call a “controlled chaos.”
What is the first dish you ever mastered?
One of my earliest cooking memories goes back to when I was four years old. My first school was a wonderful Montessori school where cooking was a part of the curriculum. Every week we would take on a new recipe. The first dish I every mastered on my own believe it or not was homemade flour tortillas. I have vivid memories of making the dough and rolling out the little rounds to be fried in butter. I can still smell them.
What is your signature dish?
I love regional Italian food, the simplicity, the freshness of the ingredients and the seasonality are all very appealing to me. For my signature dish is Salt Crusted Sea Bass with Braised Kale, Caramelized Onion and Broken Lemon sauce.
Who was your first cooking inspiration?
I have two inspirations in a way. I owe a debt of gratitude to the Joy of Cooking and also to my junior high Home Economics teacher, Mrs. De Ville. For as long as I can remember I was an active kitchen “scientist”. I spent hours pouring over the pages of various cookbooks, my favorite being an early edition of The Joy of Cooking. Through the detailed descriptions I often experimented (and sometimes failed)with making all sorts of things from pickling watermelon rind to making cottage cheese from scratch. This curiosity lead me to sign up for a Home Economics class as an elective in Junior High. I had the opportunity to learn at a young age the fundamentals and science behind cooking. It is a shame that most schools don’t have the budgets for arts programs any longer. Most young adults leave home barely able to cook without a microwave. I am so grateful for invaluable lessons I learned from Mrs. De Ville, I like to think that when I cook, she is watching down from heaven smiling.
Next: Benjamin Knack