Updated: Jan 12, 2019
"Everyone deserves to eat well. More importantly everyone has the right to know what is in their food. Food plays a much larger role in our health than most people realize. The foods we eat literally dictate the status of our health."
Catch up on all things food and don't miss the recipe at end of the interview!
Where and how did you get your start in cooking?
I started in the early 90’s, so it’s been almost 30 years now—and I’ve been in education for about 20. I’ve always been drawn to the kitchen. I love the heat and I love the intensity. The first time I went into a commercial kitchen was when I was considering culinary school. As soon as I walked in, I felt like I’d arrived, and it’s been wonderful ever since.
Where did you go to culinary school?
I went to the Art Institute in Fort Lauderdale. I chose that school because they had three master chefs there, and at that time there were only about 50 in the entire United States. I learned so much there. One of the things they taught me was how to observe, and that’s been critical when teaching.
Can you tell us a little about CPCC’s Culinary Program?
I’ve been there for 11 years. It’s quite a dynamic program, and has been named fourteenth out of all culinary programs on the east coast. That includes all the culinary programs from Maine to Florida.
And what do you teach, specifically?
I can teach anything, but my specialty is “Garde Manger,” which literally means “Protect to Eat.” Garde is all about lots of different things. From making salad dressings, pickles, condiments such as ketchup, mustards and mayonnaise to salads, sandwiches including preparing all the meats, cheeses and spreads for them. We cure meats creating gravlax, smoked fish, bacon, pork bellies, pancetta, sausages, pates and terrines.
Why do you enjoy that work so much?
I find Garde to be the most exciting part of a kitchen. Creating hors d’oeuvres, making cheese, ice creams, sorbets and gelato, there is so much to do. Garde is also known as the “Art & Craft of the Cold Kitchen,” but there is plenty of hot cooking going on as well.
What’s your favorite food, both to cook and to eat?
It depends on the day, but the one thing I can’t ever, ever, resist is a good piece of friend chicken. That, and really good pickles. Sometimes I get them at a farmer’s market, or I make my own.
Did you grow up with a love of food?
I grew up all over the world, and learned about different cuisines in different countries. My father was in the Air Force and I spent 12 years in Japan—so I have a strong Japanese influence. We lived in a Japanese neighborhood, and every Wednesday night, my mom would make a meal and exchange it with the family that lived right behind us. So they might get a pot roast, and we would get a traditional Japanese meal.
What’s been the biggest change in Charlotte’s food scene since you’ve lived here?
Watching it explode, when it used to be pretty mild. When I came here over 11 years ago, I managed the Mimosa Grill uptown, and was able to get a good idea of what was happening in town. It was the beginning of what is had become now. Every now and then, I’ll hear about a student I’ve had in class who is making an imprint in Charlotte, and helping to put us on the map. We don’t just have one kind of food. What we have is eclectic, fun and delicious. I love it!
Are there any foods you don’t like?
I’ve never understood persimmons. Also, I can’t eat venison—I just can’t do it. I’m very open to native cuisines, though. Growing up, we had a rule that you don’t ask what you’re eating until the end of the meal. Then you can ask, or if you were smart, you learned the language and figured it out.
How did your show, “Charlotte Cooks” come about?
They were already creating programming at CPCC for their channel. I was brand new to the culinary department. We were having a meeting and they said, “It’s your turn.” They showed me the ropes, and after one episode the TV people called and asked me to do more. And they kept asking me. We now have over 100 episodes. I also used to work for Alton Brown, so I knew a little about how TV worked. I think I made it easy for them, where they just had to show up and film.
Do you have all the recipes planned in advance?
No. I usually walk around the grocery store about a week before we do the show and see what’s available. Then I make a menu or show plan. When I tried to plan it in advance, I found the ingredients weren’t always available. Once I tried to do mussels and they were out. Another time, I wanted artichokes and they didn’t have them.
What are some of your favorite restaurants in Charlotte?
I go to Dressler’s at Metropolitan a lot. They have great food and great service, and I love the patio. It’s my neighborhood restaurant. I love Tom Condron’s Lumiere. I also like Heirloom, where I’ve enjoyed their tasting menu. If I don’t have to make a decision except which credit card I have to use, I love that. You never know what you might love that you haven’t thought of.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
That I’m seriously into natural health and healing! I teach healthy cooking classes on Saturdays at Dynamic Health and Pain Management on South Boulevard. I focus on healthy eating and helping people to become aware of how certain foods make them feel. When you follow a healthy diet, you feel better. People are becoming more aware of their health and their bodies, and starting to make that connection to what I put in my body affects my health. I’m also a certified integrative nutrition health coach.
Put your chef hat on and check out Chef Pamela's popular recipe for pickles from her blog spoonfeast.com.
Discover more about Chef Pamela at chefpamela.com