Gale Gand dishes about spring menus for Easter and Passover and the art of brunch! The renowned author, TV host, and executive pastry chef for Tru trained at La Varenne in Paris and then moved to New York City where she worked at Gotham Bar and Grill. There, her desserts were awarded three stars by New York Times food critic Bryan Miller. Gale returned to Chicago in 1993, working at four-star Charlie Trotter’s before embarking on a number of successful restaurant ventures and opening the world-class fine dining establishment Tru with Rick Tramonto in 1999. Most important to Gale, though, is her devotion to her family and three children, and the love of sharing her passion for food with people and families of all ages.
We at Sheridan Road had the opportunity to watch Gale cook during our photo shoot for Gale Gand’s Brunch! (released April 2009), sample Gale’s fabulous strata and melt-in-your-mouth macaroons, and chat with the down-to-earth and devoted mom about her past year and what to expect next.
Photographs by Jon Cancelino
Be sure to check out Gale's spring recipes here!
What have you been up to since Sheridan Road last interviewed you in 2008?
I spent six months of the year on a book tour promoting my latest book, Gale Gand’s Brunch!, traveling to places from New York and Dallas to Louisville and Madison, Wisconsin. I’ve also been doing a lot of cooking demonstrations, including a segment on the Today Show with Al Roker, on which I prepared Baked Eggs in Ham Cups, pictured on the cover of Gale Gand’s Brunch!, and Almond Crusted Ciabatta French Toast.
After spending your career perfecting and creating fine desserts, what inspired you to write a cookbook about brunch that includes everything from egg dishes to salads?
For one, I love and missed this type of food, especially as a pastry chef working early in the morning. We don’t eat breakfast. And I love fried egg sandwiches! It grew out of my love for eggs. I began seeing the crossovers between how eggs work in both egg-based desserts and brunch foods. I make bread pudding all the time, and it’s not much different to make a savory bread pudding, or strata. Instead of raspberries and sugar, I use ingredients such as ham and broccoli.
I also wanted to write a book to celebrate the spring holidays of Easter and Passover and find a way to entertain that didn’t involve elaborate dinners that take more preparation than brunch and go late into the evening.
And, the book has struck a cord with people and been popular from day one. People love brunch, eggs are cheap, and perhaps the economy is an influence.
Can you say more about the entertaining aspect of brunch?
It is common to feel isolated from the experience of having multiples. My husband and I have five-year-old twin girls, Ruby and Ella, and son Gio (13). With a full family and career, it is very difficult to pull off a dinner party. It excludes the children, often goes late into the night, and requires more planning, elaborate preparation, and cost.
But I could do brunch. It’s typically held on a Saturday or Sunday and lasts from about 10 a.m.–2 p.m., with people coming and going when they can. I set up a buffet, a separate station for self-serve drinks including a signature drink to simplify beverages. It is family friendly, and the food is really flexible. The food is quick to make and many dishes can be made ahead of time such as the Strata, which can sit overnight and then be popped into the oven.
Tell us more about brunch food, how you decided to structure Gale Gand’s Brunch!, and how you chose which recipes to put in and which to leave out?
Deciding what to put in was very hard when I was only allotted 75 recipes! Even now I think of things I wanted to include but couldn’t. But I knew that there had to be an egg chapter, because eggs are the backbone of brunch. And then I had to include a section on the five mother dishes of brunch: omelets, strata, frittata, quiche, and crepes. In addition, there are so many variations on each of these that I felt it important to add. I settled on five variations on the five master recipes for these dishes. And, of course, there had to be a chapter on pancakes, waffles, and French toast and sweets—the Bacon French Toast is killer—and a bakery section for everything from muffins to scones and doughnuts, not to mention unique salads such as the Beet and Artichoke Salad, and some interesting “brunch bites” like Crunchy Zucchini Rounds with Roasted Tomatoes and Goat Cheese.
Why sweets? Isn’t brunch more about the eggs, muffins and cheeses, meats, and other savory dishes?
Most brunch dishes lend themselves to the traditional Easter meal, but the Passover meal is typically served in the evening. And it is very challenging to find desserts that respect Passover traditions. For example, we cannot use flour, yeast, baking soda, or powder. That eliminates a lot of desserts!
Usually, people end up with the usual dry sponge cake or a groundnut or flourless chocolate cake. I’ve developed recipes for Macaroons, a tart shell, and a straight easy fast chocolate ganache.
What else is important to you?
Teaching and encouraging people to cook with their children and families. I think it is important for children to feel a part of preparing food for the family. I love to teach, to get people cooking because it gives them a level of skills and confidence that they don’t get elsewhere. And it’s actually pretty easy!
Gale has a new website that includes a calendar of her cooking demonstrations, selected recipes, and links to all of her activities; over the past year, she also taped 26 cooking segments for the Food Channel’s Answer TV segment that can be accessed via her website www.galegand.com. Recently celebrating its 10th anniversary, Tru is located at 676 N. Saint Clair Street in Chicago. For more information, call 312-202-0001, or visit www.trurestaurant.com.