Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Chef Carla Contreras, More Than Just a "Chopped" TV Competition Finalist

Is it truly possible for a professionally trained chef to be skilled, humorous, dynamic, likable AND highly respected by her students? The answer is yes! Chef Carla Contreras of The Red Clog Kitchen is one of CKCA's newest instructors teaching our sold out Summer Cooking Intensive program in Manhattan and our students are raving!

Starting Out...
Chef Contreras started her career in the food world busing tables for a caterer at the age of 17. When she dropped a tray of dishes at a wedding, Contreras' clumsiness took a fortuitous turn and she was reassigned to the kitchen to work the line. She does admit however, that her parents greatly contributed to her interest in cooking. They encouraged her as a child to write family grocery lists for her mom's delicious Italian recipes. As a young adult, Contreras went on to work at country clubs, cafes and as a prep and line cook. She then decided to supplement her kitchen experience with a more formal education.

Her Culinary Background...
Chef Contreras' resume is an amalgam of degrees, certifications, training, personal cheffing and teaching. She has a bachelor's degree from Johnson & Wales, a master's in food management from NYU and is certified as a holistic health counselor. This summer in addition to teaching at CKCA, Chef Contreras is also working as an instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education teaching their green market cooking class. She enjoys taking her students to the farmers' market and teaching them how to select and cook farm fresh produce. If that is not enough to keep her busy, she also prides herself on providing one-on-one cooking classes in clients' homes. She calls one of her favorite sessions, "The Pantry Re-do."


Her Passions...
Many days you can find Chef Contreras at the Union Square Farmers Market buying produce and speaking with vendors. She enjoys taking her students to the farmers' market and teaching them how to select local and seasonal ingredients. According to Contreras, "Food and cooking can be spiritual if you use seasonal ingredients and align yourself with the flavors, colors and the many gifts that nature has to offer." One of Chef Contreras' favorite meals to prepare and indulge in is her version of matzo ball soup, homemade Pomodoro Sauce (which she calls her penicillin) over zucchini shavings, instead of pasta, with beef or turkey meatballs.

Celebrity Chefdom...

Chef Contreras' outgoing personality and life experiences have made her the perfect candidate for reality TV show competitions. She became a finalist on the ever-popular show “Chopped” on the Food Network. Contreras also competed on "CYAO," an HLN cooking show, which challenges chefs to transform unhealthy dishes into nutritious meals. She thoroughly enjoyed both of these experiences, feeling that live TV made her more confident and a better communicator as an instructor.

In Her Spare Time...
Chef Contreras is involved with Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (CCAP), a program for underserved public high school students dedicated to igniting a passion for culinary arts in teens.  She continues to mentor participants with many of them receiving scholarships to professional culinary arts programs as a result.

Chef Contreras at CKCA...
At CKCA, we are thoroughly enjoying Chef Contreras' refreshing, healthful approach to cooking and her incredible recipes.  We look forward to seeing her infamous red clogs in our teaching kitchens again in future classes.

FLASH QUESTIONS for Chef Contreras!

One challenging food to prepare: 
Poached eggs in a Ramekin (she’s mastered it now).

Favorite cookbook: 
"Plenty" by Yotam Olenghi.

Her Mentor: 
Eric Pellezzari formerly of The Art Institute in NYC, for his total dedication to technique.

Her favorite recipes: 
Marriage Proposal Chicken (always a great story) and Roasted Cauliflower Soup.

Most useful kitchen tool(s): 
A chef's knife, parchment paper and a Mircroplane zester

Favorite TV cooking show: 
Mind of a Chef (PBS)

Best advise for culinary arts students: 
Read, read, read!  Read every day about culinary arts... a magazine, the New York Times, or articles on leadership in the kitchen. It makes you better at what you do.
Be sure to take classes after your training is complete and work in a variety of kitchens.  All of these experiences will build your confidence and skills.