World Chefs: Award-winning Gale Gand chef meditates on the midday meal

NEW YORK Tue May 27, 2014 9:30am EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Gale Gand, an American award-winning chef, cooking teacher and television personality is on a mission to make lunch the new dinner.

Tuna fish salad, grilled cheese and peanut butter and jelly are among the midday staples given a new twist in “Gale Gand’s Lunch!,” the eighth book by Gand, who is co-founder of Tru, a fine-dining restaurant in Chicago and former host of TV’s “Sweet Dreams.”

“I sort of felt that lunch was the neglected stepchild of all the meal periods,” said Gand, whose recently opened Spritz Burger, a restaurant that features soda, burgers, brunch and her own brand of root beer.

From her home in Riverwoods, Illinois, the 57-year old spoke about her love of casual cooking, how she thought she’d be an artist until she found her calling in the kitchen, and her shelf of French mustard.

Q: Why did you write this book?

A: I think we need help understanding how important lunch is. The French get it. They get the two-hour lunch and then a smaller dinner. We’ve got the opposite and I don’t think it’s doing us any good to eat this big meal at night and neglect our midday nutrition ... I think that there’s room for lunch to come into its own and the cooking grew out of that.

Q: Your restaurant Tru is fine-dining but your latest venture, Spritz Burger, is a burger and soda joint. Why this change of direction?

A: I’m still a partner at Tru but don’t have any day-to-day responsibilities. I joke about the contrast because Tru is kind of a fancy-pants ... A regular Tru customer comes in just once a year. That’s considered often. A regular at Spritz Burger, my little urban soda and burger joint, comes in once a week, so you’re really in people’s lives. I think I needed to do fine dining when I did it and I did it well ... But I just really love to cook and it doesn’t matter if it’s upscale or a grill cheese in the oven. I’m not a snob.

Q: Did you always want to be a chef?

A: Actually I went to art school and I said I was going to be an artist since kindergarten. While I was at school I waitressed and you can sort of predict this: a line cook doesn’t show up one night, they look at me, and throw me on the line to cook ... I’m terrified for six seconds and on the seventh I felt this weird sense of calm come over me, like I had found my calling.

Q: Can you describe the pleasure cooking gives you?

A: It’s entertaining. It’s nurturing. It’s drama. It’s dance. It’s chemistry and physics. It’s art ... There’s this pleasure in the hand-eye coordination and the gross and fine motor skills that you’re perfecting. And I love how the ingredients react reliably. Every time you cream butter it creams.

Q: How can the home cook invigorate lunch?

A: Something as simple as cutting sandwiches differently or using two different colored breads and then flipping one so you have two things going on.

Q: What’s always in your pantry?

A: I went to France last summer and I bought mustard in every city we stopped in. I have this huge mustard collection. I have a shelf of pickle-y things, peppers and cornichons. And I make my own jam, which is pretty easy to do and makes a peanut butter and jelly sandwich much more special.

  Pea & Garlic Dip (makes about 3 cups)

1 pound frozen peas, thawed

10 fresh mint leaves (optional)

2 medium cloves garlic

1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more as needed

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  Place the peas, mint (if using), garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil in a food processor and process until well blended and relatively smooth. The mixture will retain some texture, but make it as smooth as possible. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper as needed.

Serve immediately or transfer to a bowl, cover, and chill until ready to serve. The dip keeps in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

(Editing by Patricia Reaney and Chizu Nomiyama)

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