Meet Savory Chef Elaine

What’s your earliest memory with food or cooking?

“So, my grandfather was a rice farmer in the South of Brazil for many years. When he moved to the city, he passed the farm to my aunt. And so my early memories were, besides my mom doing the home cooking, spending weekends with my aunt’s family. They lived sustainably from the land one hundred percent. They had all of the animals, all of the produce, and they built a sweet lake that they fished from. How do you say? Sweet water fish… fish not from the ocean, of course.”

Oh, freshwater fish?

“Yes, freshwater fish! That’s what I meant to say – So the freshness was our food. 

My aunt married this Italian guy and they had this long table that they would use on the weekends. They would spend Thursday and Friday gathering all of the savory and pastry goods because the whole day Sunday was for people to come visit. They made all of the jam, the bread loaves, everything. I remember opening the fridge and it would be packed with all the food for the weekend. And so that was what my childhood was like: always with food. 
Every six months we would have a matança, where we’d kill a large pig and everyone would take part in butchering and preparing the sausages. My mom and I would clean the sides of the animal in the river and my job was to shoo away the large, predatory birds. It was fascinating. When I talk to my kids now about my childhood and the food connection that I had, they’re always so jealous.

Absolutely, I mean you really get to understand the food life cycle. I had no idea that I grew up so engaged in nature and food.”

So, I’m guessing that’s what led you to becoming a chef, right?

“Actually no – Back in my village, the trendy thing for females to become was a teacher. So after having grown up on the farm, I went to college to be an early childhood educator. When I arrived in the United States in 1999, my English was not good enough to do most jobs so I became a nanny. That was the moment when my connection with food returned. I was living in Boston with my husband at the time, so I nannied for a woman who was editor of the Harvard Magazine and she had a massive collection of French cookbooks. One day she told me “Grab a book and try to cook something with the kids!” It was from reading and cooking with them that food came alive in me again. But life was happening and it still took me seventeen years to go to culinary school. I had to be patient, but I finally earned a degree in culinary arts from Le Cordon Bleu.”

What do you cook when you find yourself missing home?

“My mom used to prepare this fish called tainha – It’s seasonal and only comes to the shore during Brazil’s winter. My mom would purchase the fish whole, season it well, and then grill it on an open fire. Unfortunately, we don’t get tainha here in Minnesota so I have to recreate it with a filet of Cod or something like that. But grilling a fish and enjoying it reminds me of her (my mom).”

When it comes to developing recipes for the bakery, how do you get inspired?

“I grab a whole bunch of cookbooks and compare all of their different recipes for the same dish. I’ll try making one of the recipes and then add ingredients as I go to play with the flavors and see how they change, constantly asking myself “how can I make this better?””

You’re our head savory chef – any thoughts worth sharing on being a leader?

“I think that being a leader sounds more challenging than it actually is. It only requires for you to be yourself, to show compassion, and to teach what you know while recognizing that what you know isn’t all of it. Leading isn’t just about telling someone to do dishes, it’s about seeing an individual’s potential to grow, empowering them by giving them the tools that they need, and then trusting their capabilities.”

And what’s been the best thing about working here (Bellecour Bakery at Cooks)?

“I feel like this place is my second home and my team is my family. We go through things together and we always support one another when we have challenges. There’s a deep connection between those of us in the kitchen, that’s for sure.”

Where’s your happy place outside of work?

Hiking and foraging for mushrooms! Or just grabbing a chair and sitting by the lake, listening to the waves that come from the boats.

Favorite item on the current summer menu?

For sweets, I can never say no to a chocolate almond croissant. And for savory, it’s a tie between the porchetta sandwich and the arugula salad.

Any teasers as to what’s coming to the savory menu this fall?

I’m really excited about bringing a falafel power bowl into the mix.