One on One with Ellise Pierce, Cowgirl Chef

Robbie Hudson, Program Director - 12th October 2012

Cowgirl Chef: Texas Cooking with a French Accent is about the adventures (and mishaps) of a displaced Texan in Paris - yes, it's a cookbook, but one with stories - and it chronicles the struggles of dealing with the French (including Ellise's picky eater boyfriend, X) and her own homesickness for Texas, which she cured by making salsa, tortillas, and starting a Tex-Mex catering and cooking class business out of her teensy, subterranean 16th arrondisement apartment... The result: A cookbook that's as fun to read as it is to cook from.

An award-winning journalist, Ellise develops recipes for her own blog, CowgirlChef.com, and the Cowgirl Chef column, which runs in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and is distributed to more than 300 newspapers. Ellise lives in Paris, France and makes frequent trips back home to Dallas, Texas to see family and friends... and to stock up on jalapeños.

What or who inspired you to want to cook?
My mom. She made dinner for us every night, and it was always done with a great deal of care and love... whether it was tuna casserole with potato chips or beef Stroganoff, our table was properly set, and we all sat down and ate together. She instilled the importance of mealtime as a way to bring people together, and it's something that I've done all my life. Even when living alone, there's something sacred about stopping whatever you're doing, making something to eat, then sitting down, and enjoying it. It's one of the most important things we can do for ourselves... and for those we love.

What is your favorite comfort food?
Chips and salsa when I'm in Texas (I love the chips from El Fenix because they’re super-light and crispy and Arriba makes a great hot salsa verde); when I'm in Paris, I love the torsades (twists) from the boulangerie down the street from my apartment, made from bread dough, lardons, and gruyere.

What is your favorite herb or spice and why?
Fleur de sel. I carry it with me wherever I go and put it in or on everything, including cookies, and toast with butter and jam, or simply an avocado, smashed and with a drizzle of pistachio or walnut oil. The fleur de sel is bright, clean and makes everything it touches taste more like the thing itself - like magic.

When did you know you had a passion for cooking?
Pretty early on... I quickly graduated from my Easy Bake oven to the real thing and used to bake cookies and brownies instead of doing my homework. When I was in elementary school, I used to put a hot washcloth on my forehead to feign a fever... so I could watch "The Galloping Gourmet" on television.

How do you relax?
I bake. Usually this means a batch of cookies, but layer cakes (carrot is my current favorite) are also especially relaxing, too.

What makes cooking fun for you?
The process of discovery, from what I may find at the market that particular week to what to do with it later…this sparks my imagination like nothing else in the world, which is why when I'm feeling uninspired, all I need to do is go to the market, the grocery store, or into my own kitchen and open the refrigerator door to start the creative process.

What is your fondest memory growing up and in the kitchen?
Sitting on a tall stool, watching my mother make a cake, listening to the sound that the beaters made as they knocked against the wide Tupperware bowl... then the anticipation that followed. It seemed like cakes took forever to bake, cool, and be iced back then.

When you are raiding the refrigerator late night, what is your favorite midnight snack?
I never eat in the middle of the night.