Q&A with Vanessa Basil, Chef/Owner of Custom Cuisines

Q: Where did you go to culinary school?

A: The school of life. I’ve read a lot, watched a lot, and cooked a lot. Within cooking, there are two different schools of thought. Attending culinary school is not a requirement or guarantee of becoming a chef.

Q: Do you watch Gordon Ramsey?

A: No, absolutely not. No one should be rewarded with attention for being a bully. Kitchens are very difficult & stressful environments to work in. Besides working with fire & knives, tempers can run as hot as the stoves. I am a strong believer that compliments are the most important type of criticism. A positive attitude encourages a willingness to learn and improve. Some of the main culinary influences of Custom Cuisines are Alton Brown and Robert Irvine. Both have had an enormous positive impact on my culinary education. I have adopted a lot of their values to learn and grow as a chef and business owner.

Q: What are some of your best dishes?

A: Each of the chefs at Custom Cuisines has an area of strength. My personal claim to fame is soups. I can turn just about anything into a soup, even macaroni & cheese! Soup is also one of my favorite things to make because it’s easy, creative, & comforting. Some historians even claim that the invention of soup led to the creation of restaurants.

Q: What is your style of cooking?

A: Comfort Fusion is a great way to describe my style and the collection of skills at Custom Cuisines. Our chefs come from a variety of backgrounds. An example of Comfort Fusion is to take something familiar, like nachos, and put an international spin on it. One of my signature dishes is something that I created called Greek Nachos. It is ground beef or lamb seasoned with fresh herbs and lemon juice. The meat is served on top of homemade pita chips and garnished with cucumber dip and marinated tomatoes. It's a crunchy, creamy, messy meal that is filling and comforting.
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Q: Do you ever get tired of cooking?

A: Yes and no. Cooking is something that all of us at Custom Cuisines love deeply. Every day chefs fall in love with the mystique of food and the magic of cooking. It is something that is part of who we are, so in that sense we will never get tired of cooking. At the same time, after chefs have spent all day cooking for others the last thing we want to do is cook for ourselves.
Some of us struggle to have an appetite because we’ve been surrounded by food all day. We’ve tasted so many things & even if we feel hungry, it's hard eat because there's no specific craving. Plus after a long shift we're usually physically exhausted yet mentally wired. It takes a long time to calm down from the fast-paced shift. Some chefs are notorious for eating either popcorn or cereal for dinner because it takes 3 minutes to prepare & there’s very little to clean up.
Occasionally cooking for others will inspire a home-cooked meal. Ironically that happens on days when a long time is spent prepping one ingredient or dish. One time I had to chop 3 cases of sweet potatoes at work. When I got home, that's all I really wanted to eat. The power of suggestion . . .