Compliments of the chef — Cherrie Camilleri
By Holly Ebel
Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN
Cherrie Camilleri is one of those lucky individuals who knew early on what she wanted to be when she grew up.
"Cooking has been a driving force with me for as long as I can remember," she says. "I started at 16 working at a greasy spoon in Michigan. My father encouraged me by saying ‘Learn this job and you’ll always be able to work and eat at least one good meal a day.’
"From that initial greasy spoon I moved on to five-star restaurants and resorts around Charlevoix, an exclusive Michigan resort area," Camilleri added. "I loved working in those places because I got to say things like ‘ala mode’ and make Bananas Foster. I was also coming into my own as a decent cook. What was beginning to bother me, however, was that I was always under someone else, in another person’s shadow, in this case the chefs, though I was fortunate to have been around some excellent ones from whom I learned much."
Camilleri moved to Rochester with her husband and young daughter in 1991 and right away began volunteering around town, as well as scouting for places where she could fine-tune her culinary skills. That led her to Daube’s, where she worked for a time. Having decided that she wanted to be her own boss, Camilleri launched a catering business and negotiated to use the kitchen facilities at Fisherman’s Inn, which is still her base of operations.
She was asked to be a part of the March of Dimes annual Celebrity Chef’s event 15 years ago which she describes as "my coming-out party." She has had a steady business cooking for others ever since. An additional part of her business has been preparing meals for individuals as a personal chef. She also has become skilled at designing diets for those with specific food restrictions such as gluten-free and lactose-free.
Camilleri prides herself on being a seasonal cook, buying locally from farmers and growers.
"That is so important," she adds.
Holly Ebel of Rochester is a freelance writer.
Q&A with Cherrie Camilleri
Q: What do you do in your spare time?
A: I started an online business selling heirloom-quality wooden toys and games which is going very well (www.aladinstoychest.com), and I am about to start working at Ashley Furniture. I like to keep busy doing different things when I’m not in the kitchen.
Q: What do you like to eat?
A: I have lost 100 pounds twice in my life, so I have learned to eat what my body tells me it wants — lots of greens right now, herbs and fish.
Q: What is your favorite cookbook?
A: The old version of "The Joy of Cooking," the one that tells you all sorts of things like how to skin a rabbit. It is well written, easy to follow and to cook from. I used it all the time as a reference when I went to culinary competitions.
Q: Any plans to open your own restaurant?
A: At one time a few years ago I did, but now I just want to cook for those I care about. I have re-done my basement and that is where we love to eat — it has great ambiance.
Q: Any special mentors who especially influenced your cooking?
A: My parents. My mother gave me the room to experiment and explore, and my father always ate it and said it was delicious. You don’t get much more support than that.
Here is a soup recipe from chef Cherrie Camilleri, especially appropriate for this time of year:
Cream of pumpkin soup
1 can pumpkin
1 quart half and half
1 tablespoon vegetable or chicken base (She prefers Better than Boullion concentrate)
Freshly grated nutmeg, several grinds
A shake of ground ginger
Whisk ingredients together and warm on low heat. Meanwhile, scoop out little pumpkins or small squash and serve warm soup in those. She suggests topping the soup with Black Currant white cheddar cheese (available at Just-Rite Market).
"You can also add dried cranberries," she says. "This soup is open to your imagination."