Meet the Chefs

Featured Chefs on Kitchen Chat

Chef Carla Hall

“Do what you love and else will follow.”

Chef Carla Hall resonates happiness from her soul in the kitchen. She makes cooking fun, and her friendship has brought such joy to my life. Her latest cookbook, “Carla Hall’s Soul Food” was hot off the press, and she gave me the third copy of the book. Chef Hall dedicated this special cookbook to her late father, George Hall. We both were blessed by fathers who loved to cook. Chef Hall is on a mission to have soul food recognized as an official cuisine. She prepared her Sea Island Shrimp and Grits recipe from the cookbook. She didn’t put any dairy into the grits, only water and a bay leaf. Chef Hall encourages everyone to think of soul food as something that is fresh with lots of seasonal vegetables. Chef Laurita and I had fun making biscuits with Chef Hall and Chadwick Boyd last summer during their “Biscuit Time” tour.


March 31, 2014 by phone from my kitchen in Barrington Hills; March 22, 2017 in Louisville at IACP conference; October 15, 2018 in Chef Hall’s New York City apartment where she cooked Shrimp and Grits; and June 20, 2019 in Middleby Residential Showroom at the Merchandise Mart where we cooked biscuits.

  • Use all-purpose flour and Crisco.
  • Use frozen butter to grate and toss into flour.
  • Use your sense of smell as your time clock for when the biscuits are ready. It’s always exactly 14 minutes.

1 cup stone-ground grits
1 bay leaf
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound large shrimp, peeled and deveined with tails on
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 onion, diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon chile flakes
2 plum tomatoes, cored and finely diced
3 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped

For the grits:
Bring 4-1/2 cups water to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. While whisking, add the grits in a slow, steady stream. Whisk in the bay leaf and 1 teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue whisking until the grits are thick and creamy, 40 to 45 minutes. Stir in the thyme leaves and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Season with salt. Cover and keep warm over very low heat, whisking occasionally. I like my grits loose, so I add water if they start to stiffen. For the shrimp: Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Working in batches, add the shrimp to the skillet and sear until just opaque, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Reduce the heat to medium and add the onion and bell pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and chile flakes and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Season with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes and cook, gently folding, for 1 minute. Return the shrimp and any accumulated juices to the skillet and toss just until well combined. Divide the grits among serving plates and top with the shrimp mixture. Garnish with the parsley and serve immediately. Serves 4. 

Jaime Laurita

May 24, 2018, in the Middleby Residential Showroom in the Merchandise Mart, Chicago. We cooked Chef Jaime Laurita’s Risotto.

  • Step into the kitchen with a smile and good intentions.
  • Go organic and use ingredients when they are living their best life.
  • Prepare. Prepare. Prepare. The more preparation you have, the better the recipe will come out.

Yield: 6-8
Prep time: 5 minutes
Total time: 18 minutes

3 cups dry risotto rice
1 cup chopped onion
4-6 tablespoon butter
64 ounces chicken stock
1 cup white wine
Salt & pepper

Heat stock in stock pan to a rolling boil. In skillet, heat oil on medium and add chopped onion. When onion appears translucent add rice. Toast by moving clockwise continually until the rice becomes lighter and golden brown. Add wine. When lines of starch appear start adding hot stock two ladles at a time. As the stock absorbs, continue to add two ladles at a time continually stirring the rice clockwise in the pan. After stock is fully worked into the rice turn off the heat. Finish with roasted vegetables, butter, parmesan Reggiano or ingredients of your choice.

Chef Jaime Laurita

“Cook with love and cook without fear. Fear is an ingredient that you don’t want to taste.”

As the Creative Director of Middleby Residential, Chef Laurita has designed three elegant showrooms in Chicago, Manhattan, and Orange County, California. He is a Renaissance Man and has a keen understanding of hospitality, design, luxury, entertaining, and music. When people walk into his home in Chicago, they say that it’s like being invited into a place that they don’t want to leave.

For the past two years, Chef Laurita and I have been co-hosting Kitchen Chat together in the Middleby Residential Showroom in the Merchandise Mart. We are an unlikely pairing. He is a Rockstar Chef and has traveled the world with Madonna, Sting, Steven Tyle,r and even wrote a cookbook with Sarah McLachlan. He calls us “Tattoos and Pearls”. Chef Laurita has always exuded that same joy in the kitchen as my father, and he has taught me great culinary techniques to elevate my cooking. 


Chef Jacques Pépin

“Food and conversation in the kitchen. That’s the glue that holds the family together.”

Chef Jacques Pépin encapsulates the importance of cooking with loved ones in the kitchen. He has cooked on TV with his daughter, Claudine and his granddaughter, Shorey. He co-wrote “A Grandfather’s Lessons: In the Kitchen with Shorey” with his granddaughter. Growing up, I wish that I had taken the time to cook with my father. During one of our Kitchen Chats, Chef Pépin helped me put that lost opportunity into perspective. He said, “You regret not to have been in the kitchen with your father, but you still are probably there with him in the sense that the memory of those dishes you had as a child stay with you for the rest of your life.” Chef Pépin is the first recipient of the Julia Child Foundation Award. He and Julia had a PBS show together, “Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home.” Chef Pépin prepared the last dinner in Julia’s kitchen with her before her kitchen was disassembled and donated to the Smithsonian Institute. One of the dishes he made for her was Dover Sole.


Three Kitchen Chat interviews via phone from my kitchen in Barrington Hills: September 28, 2015; March 14, 2016; and September 19, 2017.

  • Drink a glass of wine before you cook.
  • Play some nice music.
  • Be flexible when you go to the market. Always look for nice ingredients

A quenelle is a football-shaped dumpling. These light and delicate quenelles take only a few seconds to prepare in a food processor (or in a bowl by hand), and they can be made a couple of days ahead of serving. Be sure to use good whole-milk ricotta cheese. The quenelles can be sautéed, as they are here, or baked in a cream sauce. They are a great accompaniment for grilled meat, poultry, or fish.

1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 large egg
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons shredded fresh basil leaves
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1½ tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Minced fresh chives (optional)

For the quenelles:
Combine all the ingredients in a food processor and process for 10 seconds or mix in a bowl with a whisk. Bring about 1½ inches of water to about 190 degrees (just under a boil) in a large saucepan. Using two large spoons or a ¼-cup metal measuring cup, scoop up and form 8 oval-shaped quenelles (about 3 tablespoons each), dropping them into the simmering water as you go. Poach for about 10 minutes, rolling the quenelles over in the water halfway through the cooking so they cook on both sides. Remove with a slotted spoon and drop into a bowl of ice water. When the quenelles are cold, drain and refrigerate until ready to serve. At serving time, heat the butter and oil in a large nonstick skillet. Add the quenelles and sauté, covered, over medium heat for 3½ to 4 minutes. Turn them over, sprinkle with the cheese, cover, and cook for about 4 minutes longer. Sprinkle with the chives if desired. Serve 4 as an appetizer.

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December 15, 2015 in her California kitchen

  • Have a good whisk, a copper pot, and an excellent set of knives.

3⁄4 cup butter
3 tablespoons water
3 egg yolks
Salt and white pepper
Juice of 1⁄2 lemon, or to taste

Hollandaise sauce is served with poached fish, vegetables, and eggs. The recipe makes about 1 cup sauce.

Melt the butter, skim froth from the surface, and let cool to tepid. In a small saucepan, whisk the water and egg yolks with a little salt and pepper for 30 seconds until light. Set the pan over low heat or in a water bath and whisk constantly until the mixture is creamy and thick enough for the whisk to leave a trail on the base of the pan. The base of the pan should never be more than hand-hot.

Take from the heat and whisk in the tepid butter, a few drops at a time. Note: Do not add the butter too fast or the sauce may curdle. When the sauce has started to thicken, the butter can be added a little faster. Do not add the milky sediment at the bottom of the butter. When all the butter is added stir in the lemon juice and taste for seasoning, adding salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste. Hollandaise is served warm, not hot, and it should be kept warm in a water bath to avoid curdling.

If hollandaise does curdle, this is almost always because it is too hot: Take it at once from the heat and whisk in an ice cube. If this is not successful, the sauce may be started again by whisking an egg yolk and a tablespoon of water over low heat until creamy, then gradually whisking in the curdled mixture, drop by drop. However, if the sauce is badly curdled the egg yolks cook into granules and the mixture must be discarded. Very occasionally hollandaise separates through undercooking, never thickening properly. If so, try whisking in a tablespoon of boiling water. If hollandaise is too thick, add 1 tablespoon tepid water to make it lighter.

Chef Anne Willan

“What greater love can there be for someone than to cook for them!”

Anne Willan is a culinary giant. She founded the legendary Ecole de Cuisine La Varenne, a cooking school in Paris that trained many of the world’s great chefs and cookbook authors. La Varenne was one of the first cooking schools in France to offer simultaneous instruction in French and English and accredited professional culinary degrees. With over 30 published books, Chef Willan is truly one of the world’s preeminent authorities on French cooking. I first met her in 2014 at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in Chicago. In early 2015, Anne graciously invited me to her kitchen in California. Chef Laurita joined me for that special occasion. I was overcome with emotion when I saw her beautiful copper pots and pans dangling over the kitchen island. One small pot looked exactly like the one my father would use to make Hollandaise sauce on Saturdays. Later in 2015, I joined Chef Willan again in her kitchen to film a Kitchen Chat about her book “Secrets from the La Varenne Kitchen: 50 Essential Recipes Every Cook Needs to Know”. Watch for her new book, “Women in the Kitchen”