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Chef Addie Gundry: From Farm to Food Network Star

Addie Gundry

By: lcrowther

Published: 10 months ago

Chef Addie Gundry didn't take a very traditional path from childhood to the culinary world to appearing on season 13 of "Food Network Star." Many chefs grow up cooking at a loved one's knee or helping out in the kitchen of the family restaurant, but Addie grew up eating a lot of boxed mac and cheese, and when she traveled to France to enroll in culinary school, she had zero kitchen experience.

"People thought I was crazy," Addie tells me when I mention that her path to professional chef seems a little unusual.

But Addie knew, with the deep conviction of a 20-year-old, that the lovely lifestyle she had read about in foodie magazines was the one for her. It was a contrast to her unsettled childhood – her parents divorced when she was young and she was frequently uprooted for moves to new cities before being placed in boarding school. She didn't have the cooking-at-Mom's-knee upbringing that many professional chefs recall fondly, because Mom didn't cook.

"Nowadays, I probably wouldn't make such a rash decision," Addie concedes. "But I just really, really, wanted to do it. It's all I wanted to do." And contrary to what her friends and family predicted as they watched her commit to the world of food, sight unseen, Addie not only got through culinary school – she excelled. Her determination to create a life she had fantasized about truly paid off.

The dream took root while Addie was away at boarding school. There, she began reading magazines like Gourmet and Martha Stewart Living, and she was charmed and inspired by the recipes and food photos they offered. What she saw in those aspirational dishes was "a way I could create a beautiful life for myself," she says. "That's when I really began to get interested in what food was all about."

With no kitchen access at school, Addie could only experiment with recipes when she was home on breaks, and though she found she enjoyed cooking, she didn't have a measuring stick to place herself next to. "I didn't know if I was good, or if I was fast, or if I even knew how to do it," she says. "I just liked it."

She liked it enough to enroll in a one-year culinary program in Avignon, France, against her parents' advice and in a world where, a dozen or so years ago, "Being a foodie wasn't as big of a thing, and there weren't recipes online, and the Food Network had barely started," Addie remembers. "Back then, it just seemed crazier."

But Addie successfully completed the program, and jobs in restaurants followed, including the triple-Michelin-starred Maison Christian Etienne in Avignon as well as positions back in the U.S. under famed chefs Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller. After a few years in top kitchens, Addie took a left turn out of a desire to try culinary jobs outside of the kitchen, landing first with Martha Stewart Living, the magazine that had inspired her original left-turn decision to be a chef. She went on to work as a consultant with a food innovation firm, coming up with new products including Doritos Locos tacos.

Today, she's creating cookbooks for Prime Publishing, looking back on the once-in-a-lifetime experience of competing on "Food Network Star" earlier this year, and she's a brand new mom, excited to create a beautiful life for her firstborn. But even as her family grows, there's loss in her life as well.

One of the few constants in Addie's young life full of upheavals was her grandparents' farm in Minnesota. She has always visited at least once a year without fail, no matter what else is happening in her life. And the food there was always very different from what she had at home: "It was truly farm to table in the sense that we ate the corn that we grew, and the cows."

Addie recalls that the kids were in charge of shucking the corn: "I remember sitting on the front steps of the farmhouse, and the sound of the green corn husks sliding off to reveal little gold kernels." It was hard work, as was riding on the combine with her grandfather to harvest the corn, but it ended with the reward of a delicious meal.

Addie still loves corn, and it's the food that most reminds her of her grandfather, who died this past summer. Addie misses him and wishes he could have met her child. Still, she's comforted by the memory of her last visit with him in May: "He got to see me pregnant and touch my belly. So even though he didn't get to meet the little guy, it was a nice moment."

She cooks corn often, and when she does, she thinks of her grandfather – especially when she cooks the Cheesy Corn Casserole that makes regular appearances on her kitchen table. It's a quick and easy recipe, the kind that Addie finds herself making frequently now that she's created her own family. While she loves the challenge of cooking a labor-intensive dish like a risotto, she also values simple, healthy recipes.

"I did get formally trained," Addie says, "and I was in fancy restaurants. But what I find now is that where I work, we create easy recipes, but they're still really pretty and they taste good. This reminds me a little bit of growing up as well, where we ate boxed food occasionally, and that's not always a bad thing. Everything doesn't need to be from scratch."

In Addie's world, that translates to making homemade pizzas, putting burgers on the grill, or "a quick lasagna you can make and forget about." It's work-ahead meal prep on Sundays, freeing up time during the rest of the week for other things. She might bake, but usually only when she's planning a party, sending her guests home with muffins or donuts that they can have for breakfast the next morning. Simplicity is the key to her beautiful life, and it shines through in comforting recipes like the Cheesy Corn Casserole that reminds her of her grandfather.

Cheesy Corn Casserole

Ingredients

2 (15.25-ounce) cans whole kernel corn, drained

1 (14.75-ounce) can cream-style corn

1 (8-ounce) box corn muffin mix

4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature

½ cup sour cream

2 large eggs

8 tablespoons butter, melted

4 scallions, thinly sliced

1½ cups shredded white cheddar cheese

Chopped fresh cilantro

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350ºF and lightly coat a 9 x 13-inch baking dish, or four 6-ounce ramekins, with cooking spray.

In a large bowl, combine 1 can of the whole kernel corn, the creamed corn, muffin mix, cream cheese, sour cream, eggs, melted butter, and scallions and mix well.

Pour the batter into the baking dish or ramekins and bake for 45 minutes, until set.

Remove from the oven, top with the cheese, and bake for an additional 5 to 10 minutes, until the cheese has melted.

Sprinkle with the remaining can of corn, cilantro, salt, and pepper, and serve.