Q&A with Chef Graham Elliot

Graham Elliot 2

Chef, cookbook author, co-host and judge on “MasterChef” and “MasterChef Jr.” and, most recently, participant in November’s azcentral.com Food & Wine Experience, Graham Elliot has become one of the most recognizable faces in the food world—in part thanks to his signature white specs. Here, he talks Thanksgiving, his new cookbook and what to expect at the inaugural culinary event.

AFM: Have you spent time in Arizona?

GE: I have been through Arizona, as far as checking out the state parks and outdoor spots. I have been in Phoenix to do an event with Shamrock Foods and to try Pizzeria Bianco. I want to try to go hiking in the hills, if possible, and take in a little golf.

AFM: What can guests expect at your seminar at the azcentral.com Food & Wine Experience (Nov. 7 and 8)?

GE: I think we are going to be taking dishes out of the new cookbook, [Cooking Like a Master Chef, coming out October 2015 ]. I think we are going to try to get some other people involved, do some karaoke and do some music. We want to try to make it different than just stirring pots in front of people.

AFM: Tell me about the new cookbook.

GE: I have been cooking for over 20 years now. The fun thing is getting to a point where you have enough recipes and ideas that you want to share with other people. That is what this is all about. It’s that idea of taking dishes you know and putting your own spin on it. Looking at what you grew up with, like stroganoff and pot roast, and try to make it unique.

AFM: What is one recipe everyone should try from the book?

GE: The stroganoff. [In this version,] we do a braised short rib, truffle mushroom puree, peppered sour cream. The same ingredients that you had growing up but completely elevated.

AFM: As the co-host of “MasterChef Jr.” and a dad, what are your tips for getting kids in the kitchen?

GE: As much as you can cook at home, the better. Get kids excited with where is food from, what it is. Say you are having shrimp or lobster, eat at the table and then pull up on YouTube a video of people catching lobster. You see their eyes grow wide because when you are just eating something on the plate, it tastes good, but that is all you know. When you see all the other things involved, it makes it that much cooler.

AFM: How did you get your start in the kitchen?

GE: My dad was in the navy, so I have been to all 50 states. Food is a great conduit for relating to culture. Each spot has its own style and history. I always loved that aspect. I used to sing and play guitar, and I wanted to do that. I dropped out of school and started dishwashing and prepping. I fell in love with the atmosphere of a kitchen. It is like a crazy pirate ship, and I enjoyed that. From there, cooking was a creative outlet with artistry involved and that is what direction I went down.

AFM: What is your career highlight?

GE: For me, the thing that changed it all was that I worked for all these great chefs. The first executive chef position for me was at age 26 in a tiny town of 2,000 in Vermont. I was named one of Food & Wine’s “Best New Chefs,” and that is where a ton of doors opened and people got to see what I did. From there, I really came into my own.

AFM: What ingredients should at-home chefs experiment with this fall?

GE: Something that isn’t crazy, but simple, is potatoes. If you smoke potatoes, they have an amazing flavor and totally different flavor, not what you think. Different beans, like lentils and cannellini beans, you can turn into something so gorgeous. Leftovers can be turned into a secondary dish. You don’t need to work with something that is super crazy or expensive.

AFM: Any Thanksgiving cooking tips?

GE: The thing for me that works the best is realizing what you can make early and what you can make last second. If you have 10 dishes, know that you can cook some of the things beforehand. Stocks, gravy, get your squash roasted. On the day of, you just have to warm it up. You don’t have to do it all on that one day.

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