Meet Cristy Bell – Executive Chef
Growing up, I was surrounded by a large family that loved food.
The first meal I prepared completely on my own was Sloppy Joes at age 9. They would have been delicious if I had only known to drain the fat from the ground beef first! None the less, after spooning off excess fat, we sat down together and enjoyed the meal.
My family experience with food, growing up, was pretty much split into two categories. One being completely homegrown, down-home country, on my Father’s side; the other being self taught, Le Cordon Bleu status on my Mother’s side. Both were integral to defining my style of cooking early on in life.
Both sets of Grandparents taught me so much as a child about food, preparation, preservation, taste, and presentation. I would spend summers with my Father’s parents growing up. They lived on 2 acres just outside of Sacramento, Ca. Every year they spent endless hours planting a huge garden that would be sufficient throughout the year. Just about every fruit tree you can think of was in that garden, along with black walnut trees, olive trees, blackberry bushes, and something we called a Chinese apple tree. To this day, I have not come across anything like it. This garden, a glorious Mecca for food lovers; Indian corn, gourds, potatoes, squash, cucumbers , numerous types of beans, lettuces, tomatoes, the list can easily go on! My Grandfather took great pride in his garden and it truly was beautiful. My Grandmother would take the wonderful produce and can it, make it into jellies and jams, pickle it, or preserve it. She had a huge pantry that was filled from top to bottom with different things that she had done throughout the season. Her style of cooking was simple, yet so amazing. I would sit and watch her in the kitchen always asking if I could help, but usually I just had to watch. But with all of those hours watching, I saw exactly how she did things and I took mental notes in my head that I can still remember. We would sit together in front of this little 10 inch television that was in the kitchen of their farmhouse and watch Julia Child, Graham Kerr, Justin Wilson, and Jacque Torres just to name a few. She never wrote down recipes although she had hundreds of cook books! She would read them for hours and jot down notes here and there of different ideas that she thought sounded good. Then off to the kitchen she went to create a magnificent delectable piece of culinary art.
My Grandparents on my Mother’s side definitely had an extensive knowledge of food and preparation methods. I realized that even more so after I completed school through the Le Cordon Bleu Program, and found that they knew just as much as I was taught! The only difference was that their knowledge was all self taught through reading and experience. Their planning and preparation of a meal was a huge and exciting affair whether it was for 6 people or 300 people. It would begin with my Grandfather writing down each recipe, taking it from his memory or from the family cookbook, then the shopping, and my Grandmother deciding plate ware, linens, cutlery, etc. He had to have everything written down to the exact point; very different from my Father’s side of the family. They both loved to entertain and my Grandfather being in the Sacramento Fire Department, loved to cook, barbeque, and try new creations on the fellow firefighters. This is how they came up with numerous recipes that are now family favorites. My Grandmother was always more of the baker in the family. She gave me a family recipe book when I moved away from home at the age 18, being sure to send me recipes every couple months, so I would never go without my favorite meals that I had growing up. That tradition still continues to this day, I think I am almost in need of a larger recipe book!
I was raised with strong family beliefs. Both sides would hold huge family holiday parties and we did all the cooking ourselves. Those were great times that I truly wish I could relive once again. And I am able to do that, somewhat, with each meal I prepare. I put my heart and soul into my food, career, and my true love… Cooking.