Teacher/Chef Amy Glaze:
World-Class Expertise Enriches the Coast
By Carolyn Jung
Chef Amy Glaze has climbed the culinary echelons to work in some of the most vaunted restaurants in the world, including Guy Savoy in Paris and Le Bernardin in New York. At these gilded, Michelin three-starred meccas of gastronomy, every dish, every tiny garnish and every knife cut is scrutinized. These are places where absolute perfection is not only expected, but demanded.
These days, however, Glaze works in a far different kitchen, one where the cooks have a tendency to giggle, horse around and squeal about the feathers still attached to a chicken they’re about to throw into a stockpot.
That’s because these cooks are 12- to 14-year-olds, most of whom have never prepared anything beyond a bowl of cereal with milk poured over it, and whose parents are San Mateo County coastal farm workers who struggle mightily to forge a better life for their children.
They are enrolled in the pioneering “Edible After School,” Pescadero’s first after-school cooking class for kids, which Glaze has overseen as its chef and program director since its inception two years ago.
How did Glaze, 39, a chef with enough gumption to become the only American woman thought to reach the level of chef de partie at Guy Savoy, come to work with this young group who have no idea of her illustrious background?
Maybe it was fate. Maybe serendipity. Whatever the case, it was definitely a match.
“I enjoy fostering talent and helping kids to learn,’’ says Glaze, who was reared in Palo Alto by parents who were teachers. “Once a child learns to achieve success, they realize they can achieve it again. And in cooking, it’s easy to gain success. It’s very tangible.’’
After crisscrossing Europe and the United States, Glaze returned to Northern California in 2010, drawn to breezy Pescadero, which her family used to frequent when she was a child. After a few fits and starts, she’s managed to carve out a new niche career for herself, centered on the coastal farms she’s long championed.
Working the Farms
In addition to leading the after-school cooking class twice a week, she also teaches cooking lessons to students of all ages at Pie Ranch, a nonprofit educational farm in Pescadero, where, yes, the curriculum often includes making pies, using wheat grown and milled on site, then baked in an outdoor wood-fired oven. She has cooked for private events at Echo Valley Farm in Loma Mar, where she lugged all her own pots and boiled her own water because it only recently installed a hot water system in its makeshift kitchen. Additionally, Glaze is the executive chef at Tunitas Creek Kitchen in Half Moon Bay, where she cooks farm-to-table dinners and teaches workshops on raising chickens and making kimchee.
Jay and Suzie Drexler, husband-and-wife co-managers of Potrero Nuevo Farm, knew the moment they met Glaze at an Echo Valley Farm dinner that she was the right person for the job.
“She gets the seasonality of food, which is really important to us as farmers,’’ says Suzie Drexler, a former Boston food critic. “We have the farming background and the vision for what we want to be. She makes it a reality for us, and much quicker than we would have been able to pull off otherwise.’’
Glaze’s path to cooking, however, was anything but linear. Indeed, after graduating from Mills College, she headed to London to try to make it as an actor. But her American accent proved a hindrance in landing roles and a work permit. She found herself practically living in a closet and making barely enough money to eat, until she met a woman who took a chance on hiring Glaze to work in her café kitchen.
Upon moving back to the Bay Area to work with San Francisco Opera, chance played a role again when Glaze was hired as a cook at Ristorante Ecco in the South Park neighborhood after the manager happened to try Glaze’s food at a potluck party.
Over the years, her prowess in teaching and cooking has served her well. Glaze has taught English and theater in India, as well as cooking and theater classes in San Mateo schools with her California teaching credential. But when her first husband received a job transfer to France, Glaze was unable to work legally in that country. He suggested she attend Le Cordon Bleu, which she initially balked at.
“I’d already worked in restaurants,” she recalls. “But it turned out I knew nothing about French cooking. I was a hack.’’
She worked hard to hone her skills. In fact, when it came time to do an internship, she was adamant that it be at a Michelin three-star restaurant, a proposition that not even her head instructor took seriously. So, Glaze walked into Guy Savoy on her
own to plead her case. It did the trick. Not only did she land an internship there, but the restaurant ended up sponsoring her work visa.
After four years working the line, through days that stretched from early morning to past midnight with nary a break in between, Glaze grew homesick for the United States. Having mastered the preparation of meats at Guy Savoy, she was eager to turn her attention to seafood. She set her sights on Le Bernardin, one of the most celebrated fine-dining seafood restaurants in the country. She started at the bottom there, as everyone does no matter who they are, until she reached the level of senior line cook, all the while chronicling her adventures on her blog, Amy Glaze’s Pommes d’Amour.
A Return to the Bay Area
After two years, an opportunity arose to open a restaurant in San Francisco that she couldn’t pass up. That project eventually fizzled, but fortunately, another project came along with Puente—a community resource center serving the needs of rural communities along the San Mateo southern coast. With a two-year grant from the Packard Foundation for $10,000 annually, Puente Executive Director Kerry Lobel wanted to develop a unique after-school program to help improve math and English skills of middle-school students. It’s succeeded beyond her wildest expectations. For the program to continue, Lobel hopes to renew the grant, which expires this year, or to enlist the generosity of individual donors.
“Cooking is the perfect marriage of mind and body,’’ Lobel says. “You really have to focus, and you constantly have to add, subtract, multiply and explain what you’re doing. The kids are able to work on math and English literacy in ways that are outside of the box. Amy has done an amazing job. She has a big heart for food and for youths. And you don’t always find those two connected. She just has a natural gift.’’
That’s evident in Glaze’s classroom, as she leads nine kids one afternoon in making Portuguese bread and caldo verde, using donated and purchased kale, potatoes and chorizo sourced from family farms within a seven-mile radius of the school. As one student works an oven timer like a game-show buzzer, Glaze asks the kids if they know where Portugal is, why the Portuguese settled in Pescadero and why potatoes should be cut in same-sized chunks, while hands shoot in the air to be the first to answer.
Last year, the students sold zucchini flower corn bread and tomatillo lime-ginger jam at the local farmers market. This year, they will do the same, as well as hopefully create their own blog and cookbook.
“I feel swag now,’’ says student Omar Macias, 14, as he buttons his chef’s coat for class. “When people bought our food at the farmers market, I felt proud that they liked it.’’
Glaze is proud, too. Although she doesn’t rule out opening her own restaurant someday, especially one where she could also teach classes, she couldn’t be happier doing what she does now.
“I don’t miss the restaurant life,’’ she says. “I breathe fresh air. I work with all the farms. I have the best of everything now.’’
Carolyn Jung is a James Beard Award–winning food writer based in Silicon Valley. Her work appears in local, national and international publications, including the San Francisco Chronicle, Food Arts, Wine Spectator and Via magazine. She is also the creator of the popular, award-winning blog www.FoodGal.com.