Chef Jennifer Booker
Meet one of the ten chefs who will compete in the 3rd Annual Golden Onion
By Hope S. Philbrick
Chef Jennifer Hill Booker, owner and executive chef of Your Resident Gourmet in Lilburn, Ga., was named a Georgia Grown Executive Chef in 2013. She writes a weekly newsletter, is a contributing columnist and recipe developer for several magazine titles, and hosts Basil Radio Show. She partnered with Hard Rock Café-Atlanta for its culinary series, served as a culinary expert for Williams-Sonoma, and taught at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts-Atlanta. A member of Les Dames d’Escoffier International, Booker is co-chair of its farm and garden initiative. After earning a B.A. from The University of Tulsa, she completed Oklahoma State University-Okmulgee’s Culinary Arts program and later earned a Cuisine de Base Certificate from Le Cordon Bleu-Paris. She led Grayson Technical High School’s efforts to earn accreditation through The American Culinary Federation, making it the first school in Georgia to boast such honors.
Her new cookbook Field Peas to Foie Gras: Southern Recipes with a French Accent, is set to be released by Pelican Publishing House on September 1—and is already available for pre-order at Amazon.com.
Have you ever competed in a cooking competition before?
I have done several. In culinary school we had mystery baskets and it was much harder than the rules for Golden Onion in that we didn’t know what ingredients we’d get so we couldn’t prepare. Also, when I was teaching at Le Cordon Bleu I liked doing competitions with other chefs, just hanging out as friends.
You’ll be competing in Golden Onion for the first time this year. What motivated you to enter?
A couple of different things. As a Georgia Grown Executive Chef I wanted to get in there and promote one of our state commodities. Plus I have friends who have competed previously and they had nothing but good things to say about it. I think it will be lots of fun.
You’ll be preparing “Vidalia Onion, Wild Mushroom & Gruyere Tartlet.” What considerations went into creating your recipe?
My cookbook will be out later this year and I want to showcase some things in the cookbook and also bring in Vidalia onions and show how versatile they are no matter what cooking style you’re using. I’ll show the sweetness of the onion by caramelizing it then pair it with the meaty richness of mushrooms. I’ll also show how a Vidalia onion can be a pickle. The pickling acid will balance that sweetness and cut through the fat.
How long did it take you to develop the recipe, which must include a Vidalia onion and be prepared in an hour at the competition?
Technically since it’s from the cookbook maybe a year, but to think up what I wanted to do for Golden Onion I knew within 15 minutes that I’d do the tartlet.
The day before the competition, how will you prepare? Will you find it hard to sleep that night?
The day before I’ll be doing some cooking demonstrations at an expo, so I’ll need to pack up two days before the competition. What I do is run through everything in my mind—unpacking, setting up, cooking, plating, judges’ tasting and winning. I’ll be prepared that way. I’ll be excited but fine. I know the value of sleep.
Tell me more about Your Resident Gourmet.
I founded Your Resident Gourmet in 1995 while living in Germany as a way to continue cooking while we were overseas and it has grown into a culinary company with cooking classes, demonstrations, menu consulting and now a cookbook. We do personal chef services and intimate catering—we could do a couples’ anniversary dinner, a girls’ night out, but generally not weddings [or other large events].
In addition to booking a private party, how might readers get a taste of your cooking?
We have a product line, Jelly’s Jams & Condiments—my daughter’s name is Janelle and her nickname is Jelly. Right now we have a cranberry orange relish which is wonderful on sandwiches as well as roasted and grilled meats. We also have a red onion confiture, a sweet and sour pickle relish. You can just click on over to YourResidentGourmet.com and pick them up.
We’re switching over to organic ingredients and I’m retesting the recipes with the organic produce.
That’s interesting. You need to retest the recipe?
When switching suppliers I test for quality and flavor profile. In my experience, it will be better. Organic produce tends to be fresher and have brighter color.
Is there any dish that you’re most known for?
I get credited for healthy cooking and ‘farm to table,’ which I call ‘local and seasonal.’ I don’t know if I’m known for a dish as much as a style of cooking, which I call Floridian cuisine—with lots of tropical fruits, vegetables and fish—and classical French.
As a Georgia Grown Executive Chef, how do you define ‘local’?
Local to me is within a 100-mile radius. I try to do my very best to shop and eat local as well as seasonal. Remember with seasonal you’re able to can, preserve or freeze products in season so you can enjoy them when they’re out of season—like Vidalia onions.
What do you most like about cooking with Vidalia onions?
The versatility. I can add them to a dish for sweetness, pickle them to add sourness, I can eat them raw—and I love that fact, I love them chopped on top of beans and greens. And they don’t make you cry!
Vidalia onions add a great flavor to every savory dish without the bite or bitterness of other onions. I look at Vidalia onions as a delicacy because I can only get them while in season and only from Vidalia, Georgia. I make a point of using them and have created specialty dishes just so I can use more Vidalia onions.
Aside from Vidalia onions, what are your favorite Georgia ingredients?
I definitely love pecans and I’m very excited about our Georgia Grown olive oil.
When you’re at home, after a long day, what’s your favorite thing to eat?
I’m a country girl at heart, so I love beans—pinto beans, Northern beans and more. I love slow-cooked savory beans and ham hocks or greens with chow chow on top.
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