Photo Gallery: Kate Proudy to try out for Food Network competition
PITTSFIELD - Kate Proudy's fascination with food preparation likely began in a tomato box.
The teenager recalls as a preschooler sitting in an empty tomato crate, while watching her father, veteran local chef Paul Proudy, at work. Eventually, Proudy showed his daughter how to cut celery -- the young girl showing no aversion to sharp cutlery.
By 14, the student chef at Taconic High School was working with her dad and is currently employed under Brian J. Alberg, executive chef at the venerable Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge.
"I learned all the basics and love of food from Dad," said the Taconic senior. "My dad and I will be in our kitchen Thanksgiving morning at 4 a.m. -- I don't mind getting up early."
Kate also has the instincts to be a great chef, according to her father.
"From early on, I realized she had talent," said Paul Proudy. "She's very determined ... willing to listen and learn."
Kate's next step in her burgeoning culinary career is college, and she hopes a popular television show can help with her higher education.
She is headed to Philadelphia later this month for a tryout to appear on the Food Network Teen Chopped competition. After submitting an essay and recommendations, she was chosen to audition for the show, March 29. If the cooking prodigy makes the cut, it's onto New York City for the championship round in May and a chance to win a $40,000 scholarship to The International Culinary Schools at The Art Institutes -- the largest culinary educator in North America with 30 programs across the U.S.
According to the Food Network website, the Teen Chopped finals pit four culinary enthusiasts against each other who must create a three-course meal with the ingredients given them -- a similar format as the network's popular show "Chopped." Judges eliminate a contestant after the appetizer and entrée portion of the program, leaving two finalists making desert. The winner will win the scholarship and honor as best teen chef.
Aside from her local restaurant experience, a resume that includes the former Fiori Restaurant in Great Barrington and Shaker Mill Tavern in West Stockbridge, Kate has been honing her skills in Taconic's Culinary Arts Program. Since freshman year, she has impressed instructors Dan Moon and Rick Penna with her talent and ability to work well under pressure.
"She can think on her feet and
doesn't get rattled," said Penna.
"She doesn't get frustrated and doesn't give up," added Moon. "The kid is willing to take a risk and has valuable [work] experience that will serve her well in the competition."
Kate says cooking at a high level is about learning from one's mistakes, like the time she forgot to put sugar in the crème brulee or a simple cake.
As for a risky recipe, the chef prodigy once made a salad dressing of peanut butter and jelly, which she called "grape vinaigrette."
"If you give it a good name, people will try anything," she said.
While passionate about cooking, Kate finds time to be a three-sport athlete, competing on Taconic's volleyball, alpine skiing and softball teams in the fall, winter and spring, respectively.
She says playing sports and wanting to enjoy one more year at Taconic are reasons why she put on hold an early start to college.
Johnson and Wales University in Providence, R.I., had accepted Kate's application to enroll last fall in the school's prestigious culinary arts program, but she decided to "see through until the end" of her high school career. She says she still has Johnson and Wales to fall back on, if she doesn't win Teen Chopped and the scholarship.
Kate realizes a culinary career is a demanding one, but she feels most comfortable in the kitchen and never gets bored.
"When I get to work and deal with food, it's not work," she noted. "I get to prepare different dishes every day."
Here are two of Proudy's favorite recipes:
1 medium onion
1 bag spinach
4 skinless boneless chicken breasts
3/4 cups parmesan cheese
1/3 cups panko bread crumbs
2 tbs garlic
Pound out chicken breast to about 1 inch thick. Sauté spinach and add into a separate bowl. In spinach bowl add diced onion, cheese, garlic and enough bread crumbs to absorb the moisture. Roll handfuls of the spinach mixture in the chicken. Place in oven at 350 degrees; internal temp of chicken and stuffing should reach 165.
1:2 ratio of risotto to cups of water (Cook risotto until all of the water is absorbed like rice)
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
2 cups fresh snow peas (washed thoroughly)
1-2 lb lobster, steamed
Break down lobster (knuckles and claws are the most tender). Boil down one stick of butter and add chopped basil. Place lobster meat in basil butter. Take risotto in sauce pan and add cream and cheese; cook down to achieve a thicker, creamy texture. Add fresh snow peas to risotto and let simmer for short time. Add lobster to risotto right before serving.