In our Spring 2016 issue, we featured three incredible female chefs, all working in different disciplines. We were able to catch up with Christine van Bloem, owner of Kitchen Studio Cooking School in Frederick, Stephanie Wilson, executive chef of Vintage in New Market, and ML Carroll, owner of Canapés Catering in Frederick.
Sass Talk with Christine:
Christine used to work at an advertising agency in New York, while taking night classes at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School (which is now the Institute of Culinary Education). She found her passion there, moved to Frederick, and opened the School in 2005. Now, the School has just passed its 12th birthday, and Christine could not be more excited. A year and a half later, both Christine and her school are thriving!
What have you been up to over the past year?
Cooking! The School has been busier than ever, and we’re totally focused on just our cooking classes.
Has that been a steady increase or more of a spike?
Oh, definitely a steady increase over the years. It’s really interesting, lately we’ve had a lot of people requesting private cooking classes. We’re not sure what that’s about!
What changes have been made to TKS? Renovations? Staff additions?
We actually just promoted Caroline to kitchen manager, she’s so amazing. She takes care of the shopping, and has been here for quite a while! In terms of renovations, we made just a tiny one, but it’s made such a huge difference in our space. We used to be able to take around 16 students, but now we can fit 22 comfortably. We didn’t really change much, we just removed some cabinets, and rearranged the space so that it was more open. We made things work better.
Do you have any upcoming events or projects that you’re excited about?
We’ve gotten some new instructors, which is great. We’re really excited for the depth they’ll bring to our class offerings. Also, we’ve had a lot more corporate groups in, which is really entertaining. We try to give them tasks that facilitate team-bonding, which can be met with mixed results!
What type of tasks or activities do you assign to them?
We try to get them all incorporated into the hands-on cooking. One of the more entertaining activities is the mystery basket class, where we give them a bunch of random ingredients and no recipes, and ask them to work together to produce a dish. We don’t make it too hard, though, because we want everyone to leave feeling successful.
How does that activity sit with the students?
Some people actually get salty with us during the mystery challenge, because they can’t work alone. It can be really difficult for some people to relinquish control and to listen to their teammates. This is the whole goal of the activity, though – to team-build and facilitate good connections.
What’s your favorite class to teach, and why?
I really enjoy working with Flying Dog, actually! Justin Tarnow and I have been working together for about 2 years, and he’s really great. The best thing is when a class ends, and you feel like you’ve made people’s weekends better. Interestingly enough, I really enjoy working with teenagers. They’re so whimsical and wacky and fun, it’s great!
What’s one piece of advice that you’d offer to both cooking students and teachers, across the board?
Relax, it’s just food. Let the folks at the high-end places get their knickers in a twist. Who the hell cares if you burn the chicken once? Just relax, and have fun with it!
Do you have any near-future goals for yourself, or for the management of the School?
My staff has always been top-notch, but recently they’ve been stepping up a lot which has allowed me to step back and relax. This makes everything go a lot more smoothly. They’ve always been willing to step up and work harder, but I never actually put that on them, because I wanted to handle everything. When you’re surrounded by excellent people, there’s nowhere else to go but up.
What’s your favorite leisure activity?
Going out to eat! Recently, I’ve gotten super into White Rabbit Gastropub, which is right behind Brewer’s. It’s an awesome place, they’ve got a beer and cocktail bar, and a short rib sandwich that’s absolutely amazing. I’ve actually been trying to branch out recently, so I’m going to Baltimore a bit more than I used to. Frederick has an amazing food scene, but there’s so much more exploring to do!
What do you like best about the woman you are today?
I’ve been doing what I’m doing for a long time, and finally I’m settling in. I feel confident, comfortable, and I’m excited to try new things. I’ve always put a ton of pressure on myself to get everything down perfectly, and I’m starting to relax more, obsess and panic less, and to enjoy each day as it comes.
Sass Talk With Stephanie:
Chef Stephanie was in the middle of studying archeology and anthropology when she realized she wasn’t pursuing her true passion. She attended L’Academie de Cuisine culinary school in Gaithersburg and worked her way up the culinary ladder. She has been the executive chef at Vintage since the restaurant opened in Fall 2014.
What’s it like being in the kitchen during dinner rush?
Exhilarating and rewarding. High energy! The reason it’s crazy in the kitchen is because people are loving this food. I’m very proud of the team I have in the kitchen for these moments.
Do you have to work wild hours, or is your schedule a bit more established since working at Vintage over the past few years?
Every chef works wild hours — that’s just part of the business. There are never any set hours in the kitchen, but that’s the way I like it. I’ve been able to establish a team that allows me to pursue opportunities for growth. It’s all about training and moving people up through the ranks, which gives me the greatest satisfaction. With that said, I love being in the kitchen all the time.
It’s pretty scary to jump into a completely new field from something that was passable (I actually did that with my college major) — what’s one thing you want those dreamers to know about the experience of switching career/major paths?
I would say it’s hard work. You need to believe in yourself and your passion for what you are doing. It’s dedication, but stay the course. Have goals and tell yourself, “You can do it.” Don’t let anyone try to bring you down.
If you could go back in time and do anything differently (regarding your career path), would you alter anything?
No, because I was conscious of each step that I took. I worked my way up through the ranks. I gained the experience and I’ve gained the confidence. I’ve enjoyed every step of the process and it all got me to where I am today. I don’t regret it at all.
Outside of being an awesome chef, have you been doing anything Sassy?
I wake up sassy. Looking forward to doing more traveling and experiencing new restaurants/cuisines.
Sass Talk with ML:
When, years ago, a couple asked if she would cater her wedding, ML agreed — despite the fact she was a novice cook and had never catered an event in her life. Now her company, Canapés Catering, is nearing its thirtieth anniversary.
What’s one piece of advice you’d offer to someone that is having difficulty realizing their dreams? Whether that be because of economic difficulty or closed doors?
Never, never, never give up! If you believe in you, your product, your vision…don’t let anyone or anything stand in your way. I realize this sounds cliché but nothing bad comes from hard work. It really does boil down to how much are you willing to devote to your dream? If you give your all, the doors will open and the nos will become yeses.
Who/what was your support system when the going got tough at the beginning of Canapes?
Starting, running and lasting in any business is not easy. If it was, everyone would be doing it. The catering business is definitely not easy nor lucrative. You chose to deal with clients during emotional times, juggle unnerving transportation logistics and deliver a product safely and in a memorable fashion. In the 29 years of business, the best support system that I have found is who you choose to surround yourself with. From staff to vendors, select reliable, hard-working, smart, innovative and passionate people who identify with your vision. Having a loving, patient and understanding partner – in my case – my husband makes all the hard work even more rewarding.
Do you have a favorite dish to cook? A favorite type of event to cater?
We do it all at Canapés…from handmade hors d’oeuvres to stunning wedding cakes, I can’t pick a favorite…my passion for my craft is too vast. I have never been able to answer this question…ever!
But if pushed to choose. I love that perfect bite…When I auditioned for The Taste I made one of my favorites…a mini white cheddar & corn meal waffle topped with Korean bbq pork belly with a poached quail egg finished with a tomato hollandaise, dehydrated bbq flame, crispy prosciutto & chives…it was beautiful and delish!
I love all the events. From our weekly breakfast for 130+ Rotarians to the daily lunches at our cafes to the most elegant of weddings. I love the challenge of giving our customers the absolute best experience that we can. Seriously, I find it all exciting! I’ve catered for celebrities and the G8 Summit. One of my most favorite events that I worked personally was for Mission of Mercy. It was a Ribbon Cutting cocktail party. They gave us a budget and let us do our thing. I love that! Because they trusted us and our creativity, they were showered with so many creative hors d’oeuvres.
What’s the most outrageous catering experience you’d had/dish you’ve been asked to cook?
Jeez…there have been sooo many. Discretion precludes me from sharing. My assistant often says to me, “We could write a book!”. Canapés is incredibly fortunate to have wonderful clients and customers…but we have also had to muster thru some seriously caarrraaazzzy moments too.
Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?
If you told me 30 years ago that I would become a chef let alone a caterer and a business owner and employer, I would have thought you crazy but here I am today in business and surviving in one of the most difficult of fields. I have seen incredible highs and the worst of lows but the customers and my co-workers keep me coming back for more…Collectively my team and myself are amazing at what we do together and I appreciate every opportunity to show the world our talents.