A short question and answer interview with Heidi Rabel.
Have you always loved to cook?
Yes. My mother came from a matriarchal family where cooking was perceived as an important creative expression. As a little girl I remember longing to join their clan of good cooks. At our house dinner was not just the evening meal, it was an event that included planned and carefully executed food, lively conversation and lots of guests. I loved everything about it but doing the dishes. Actually I put lots of creative energy into weaseling out of that part.
I remember the morning that my mother told me I was mature enough to make the toast for breakfast. She asked me what kind of jam I thought would be best, reminded me to take the butter out of the refrigerator first so that it would soften, explained timing the toast in relation to the eggs and asked how I thought the toast should be arranged to look best. That morning I was invited into the world of cooks. I clearly remember realizing that it was more fun than almost anything.
How did you become a chef?
Becoming a chef did not enter my mind before I was 45. I taught school after college and then worked in public relations, editing and community activities until my children were in school all day. Then I started full time as a professional fundraiser and did that for 8 years. All that time I was a serious home cook who saved magazines, cookbooks and recipes, and I hung out with others who shared the passion for food.
How did cooking become a profession?
A friend who owned a restaurant asked me if I wanted to be his lunch chef. Cooking professionally had never occurred to me before that day, and initially I didn’t take the offer seriously. After thinking about how fun it might be, I decided to give it a try mainly as a terrific adventure. After the first hour on the job I knew that I was about to change careers, and I did.
How did your food career evolve?
I cooked there for almost a year and then moved into menu and product development because I was not willing to work nights while my kids were still adolescents. I then went to work for Nordstrom in the corporate restaurant division where I stayed for 9 years.
What did you do there?
I developed specialty foods and chocolates for the gift department and developed menu items and recipes for the restaurants and espresso bars. In my wildest dreams I could not have designed a more challenging, diverse or high-energy job. Plus, working with Nordstrom ethic of customer service focused my overall food perception toward the people I cook for instead of on me the cook.
And after Nordstrom?
Just one book, are you going to write more?
I did write another book three years ago, but when it was finished I realized it shouldn’t be a book. Besides, I love food and love to write about it, but publishing is another matter; I didn’t love that at all.
Was it a cookbook?
No. It was a series of personal stories about people who provide the great food of the Northwest: farmers, chefs, retailers, artisan cheesemakers, bakers and chocolatiers, foragers, fishermen and philosophers. I worked with a wonderful photographer, learned a great deal researching the book and met some absolutely amazing people. Who knows, maybe it will be a series on the blog. Interested?
Editor’s note: As of summer 2014 Heidi moved onto other projects and is no longer writing for Fresh by Northwest. Click here to retrieve a list of all of her posts.