From international chefs to celebrity cake bakers, tracing the history of the Western Reserve School of Cooking, founded in 1971, presents a who’s who in the culinary arts. Lisa Abraham, food writer and columnist for the Akron Beacon Journal, shares chef bios and brings 40 years of recipes from the Hudson school’s archives back to the table with her book Famous Chefs & Fabulous Recipes: Lessons Learned at One of the Oldest Cooking Schools in America (University of Akron Press, $34.95).
It was really my format and my idea. When [school owner Catherine St. John] approached me about the subject of a book, we looked at the files and the recipes, and when I started seeing the names of the chefs who had been there over the last 40 years, I was just blown away by the caliber of all the chefs. I told her that was really the most interesting thing … that this tiny little school in Hudson, Ohio, had attracted such big-name chefs, and that if she wanted my idea, it would be to focus on the chefs. ... I spent a year and a half trying to track down as many as I could.
Once we got the chefs to agree to sit down and be interviewed, then what we did was go back and look for the recipes they taught when they were at the school. So the recipes that accompany their biographies are actually the recipes they taught when they were in Hudson.
There’s nothing that isn’t in there. There’s fancy French, tons of pastry and everyday recipes you can make for your family, like Pam Anderson’s macaroni and cheese. Doug Katz, from Fire in Shaker Square, has a recipe for braised chicken thighs. Chicken thighs are one of the most economical meats. It’s not even as expensive as boneless, skinless chicken breast. It’s a very basic recipe. So that’s family friendly and very easy for all of us to do. There are high-end [recipes] as well.
So much of what we see in beautifully styled food comes from people with an art background. ... Collette Peters, who is basically a celebrity cake-baker to the stars, is in the book. She was a jewelry designer for Tiffany’s when she started baking cakes. It makes a ton of sense because her cakes are like a work of art. Learning about people’s life stories, their travels and how they ended up in food and ended up having great success in the culinary field ... was just a joy for me.