Graham Elliot (Photograph: Anthony Tahlier)
Chef Graham Elliot has been cooking professionally for 21 years — his resume includes stints at famed Chicago restaurants Charlie Trotter’s, Tru, and Avenues, plus multiple James Beard award nominations — but says he only recently got around to figuring out what he wants to convey to people through cooking and recipes. In other words, Elliot’s fans can rejoice, because he’s finally written his first cookbook, Cooking Like a Master Chef.
“The big idea is being able to have fun with your food and going with a no-rules approach,” says Elliot. He may have a culinary degree and years of restaurant experience under his belt, but Elliot doesn’t want anyone to feel “stuck having to do the exact recipe.” He definitely wants home cooks to read his recipes and to get a sense of the ideas behind each dish, but he encourages experimenting and finding your voice in the kitchen.
Elliot’s own culinary voice is loud and clear. He describes his style as “whimsical plays on something people know, whether it’s a Caesar, tacos, pot roast, or stroganoff,” and points to his Cheddar Cheese Risotto as a perfect example. Inspired by a road trip through Wisconsin, Elliot’s take on the classic Italian rice dish features cheddar in place of Parmesan, and is dressed up with cider-braised pearl onions, a sweet apple garnish, and smoky bacon powder. That might sound complicated, but Elliot insists there’s no reason to be intimidated. “There’s nothing about the [food] that should freak people out,” he says. Just think of the recipes as ideas or starting points, and do you own thing.
Cheddar Cheese Risotto (Photograph: Anthony Tahlier)
When Elliot isn’t behind the stove at his Chicago restaurant, Graham Elliot Bistro, he’s often in California, filming MasterChef or Elliot is a judge on both hit shows, and says the experience has been nothing short of amazing. As a father of three boys, Elliot relishes the chance to mentor and coach the aspiring young chefs on MasterChef Junior, which returns to Fox for its fourth season this Friday. When the show started, Elliot and the rest of the MasterChef team were surprised by the kids’ culinary chops: “The skill level of these kids and the fact that their parents and friends encourage them to learn this life skill of cooking really gives us hope for what the future’s going to bring.”
Elliot also enjoys cooking with his own kids and even plans to write a cookbook focused on family cooking. When it comes to getting kids interested in and excited about food, Elliot finds that making them part of the creative process from the very beginning really makes a difference. If you can get kids to think of cooking as something to enjoy, it won’t seem like a chore, which stays true to Elliot’s overall message to just have fun.