Where do you come from?
My parents emigrated from Egypt shortly before I was born. I was born and raised in Rockland County. I currently live with my husband and 3 sons (8, 6 and 3 years old) in Irvington, NY. It is a beautiful village on the Hudson River in Westchester County.
How did your interest in food develop?
My extended family is huge and we always had a ton of family gatherings throughout my childhood, filled with food. It seemed like every week was someone’s birthday or a holiday. I learned to love food then. Just the anticipation of all of the different things we would get to eat at each celebration excited me. I also used to take cookbooks out from grade school every summer and practice recipes as a hobby.
My whole life, the idea of going to culinary school and becoming a chef was a bit of a dream. However, it didn’t seem like the practical path for me once I graduated from college. After having children diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies and celiac disease and recently been diagnosed with celiac disease myself, I’ve spent a great deal of time in the kitchen trying to hold on to my passion for food and teach my children they too can love food, despite their dietary restrictions.
Describe an early food experience that has influenced the way you think about food and/or cooking.
I’ve had several major influences on the way I think about food. As I mentioned above, food has always signified family, gatherings and celebrations. I’ve had a lot of cultural influences on my palate as well. Growing up, our holiday foods were not generally traditional. Middle Eastern dishes were dominant such as lamb, stuffed grape leaves and béchamel sauces. I majored in Spanish in college and lived in Cuernavaca, Mexico for three summers. During that time, I gained a huge appreciation for traditional Mexican fare including chiles rellenos, street tacos, mole poblano and the versatility of the tomatillo. Additionally, my mother-in-law is from the Dominican Republic and is an amazing cook. A lot of her flavors and techniques have inspired me as well, including slow roasted pernils, sweet and savory plantains, stewed chicken and meats and of course, rice and beans.
Ultimately, I am a mom of three young boys and while I’d love nothing more than spending all day in the kitchen creating and building intensely beautiful and complex meals, I don’t have the time and my children won’t likely eat them. I’ve dubbed myself an ‘everything-but-the-kitchen-sink’ type of chef and I’ve learned to be creative and somewhat quick with the foods I have on hand. I buy ingredients that are fresh, seasonal and healthy and interpret all of the flavor influences mentioned above to create recipes.
What did you do before coming to culinary school?
I was a stay-at-home Mom for 8 years before starting the Culinary Management program in February 2012. Before that, I was a Vice President in Human Resources at a major investment bank in NYC.
What is your dream once you finish culinary school?
My dream is to become a resource in the culinary world with regards to celiac and food allergies as well as to those managing these issues for themselves or their family members. An estimated 4-6% of U.S. children under age 18 have food allergies. Additionally, the National Foundation for Celiac Awareness states one in 133 Americans has celiac disease. These issues are on the rise, in a big way. It would not make good business sense for the food services industry not to accommodate them. I want to help them do so as a culinary professional. I also want to help those newly diagnosed with these issues adjust and realize they can still have varied and delicious diets despite those restrictions.
What are your pastimes?
Spending time with the kids, cooking and reading.
What do you cook when you’re home alone?
I’m never home alone! Just kidding. Check out my blog, Celiac and Allergy Friendly Epicurean by Jackie Ourman http://jackieourman.com/ . I’ve been sharing all of the recipes I use at home for the last few months.
What’s your least favorite food?
Smelly, oily fish such as herring are my least favorite foods.
Describe your most spectacular kitchen disaster.
When I was about 10 years old, I decided to make a Father’s Day cake for my dad. I think it was a box mix and it called for a couple of egg whites. As I inspected the eggs, the only white I saw was on the shells. So, I cracked them open, emptied the egg out, crushed up the shells, put them in the mix and baked it. My dad ate every bite of that cake, professing how good it was, as he was spitting out the little bits of shells.
What’s your desert island meal?
I love fresh, whole fish that is minimally seasoned. The Branzino with fennel at the Cookery in Dobbs Ferry and the Loup de Mer at Estiatorio Milos in NYC are two of my favorite dishes. One of those two dishes would be perfect along with grilled, seasonal vegetables, a French chardonnay and a rich, dark chocolate dessert.