CHICAGO – Filipino-American White House Executive Chef Cristeta Pasia Comerford, the first woman selected for the post, credited her success to her mom who was a “great cook.”
Comerford said her mother Erlinda, a dressmaker, had a big influence in her career.
She said if her mother, who passed away last May, “did not marry early, she would probably be a chef. She was a dressmaker. But (she) showed me the ropes, she made me watch her cooking every time.”
“She would use fresh ingredients, always. There was no such thing as refrigerating anything during those days; you buy foods fresh and cook them fresh,” Comerford said.
Comerford shared her thoughts in an interview conducted by Sarah Lee, a columnist for Via Times columnist and host of Chicago Philippine Reports TV.
Comerford said her family’s decision to emigrate from the Philippines to Chicago, Illinois in 1983 also helped her achieve the success she now enjoys.
In 1983, her mom and her friend working in a hotel convinced her to try out a hotel job, “just to check it out really,” Comerford recalls.
“Somehow, it seemed like a magic door that opened up for me. Little by little, I began to embrace it. I was really liking it. And when I worked with one wonderful chef, I was mesmerized with the culinary job. I knew then that this was my new career path,” she said.
Comerford recounts, “I was still a Food Technology student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman (Quezon City) when my family decided to emigrate to Chicago in 1983.”
“I don’t really know how my parents picked Chicago, but I’m so glad that they did.
“I’ve always been a food lover. I grew up in a large family, so there was always food cooking in the kitchen,” Comerford said.
“I smelled it everywhere around the house. Bulacan and Batangas are very well known for their wonderful cuisine. So these great-tasting foods were very familiar to me. I finished high school at Manila Science High School. I was really then a big science geek. Guess, I kinda married the two, and that’s food science, or food technology,” she added.
Chef of the year
The interview took place last year after Comerford received “The Chef of the Year 2010″ recognition award from the March of Dimes Chicago in November.
The March of Dimes is an American health charity whose mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth defects, premature birth, and infant mortality.
It was founded by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1938 as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis to defeat the epidemic disease poliomyelitis, commonly known as polio, which Roosevelt had contracted at the age of 39.
Comerford becomes the second recipient of the award first bestowed on Chicago-based Chef Rick Bayless, who specializes in traditional Mexican cuisine with modern interpretation.
In 2008, Bayless was widely considered to be a serious contender for the position of White House Executive Chef under the administration of Barack Obama.
The Philippine-born Comerford said, “It’s very humbling. Of course, it is a great honor. The first honoree was Rick Bayless, and everybody knows he is a good chef and to be in the same category with him is very humbling. There are a lot of good deserving chefs in Chicago. Chicago is full of good, talented and wonderful chefs, and to be picked from that bunch … this is truly a very humbling experience.”
Hard work and good temperament
When asked what she will tell young people who would want to be in her shoes, the 48-year-old Comerford said, “Hard work and temperament. Hard work to me though is really secondary. Mostly it is temperament. When the kitchen fire flares up, figuratively, that is, you have to kinda like, put out the fire.”
“When problems arise, you have to be on the top of your game. Simply put, it is knowing what to do even before it happens,” Comerford adds.
If her mother were still alive today, she would surely be beaming with pride not only because of what her daughter has achieved but because of the good example that Comerford is showing the world. – VVP, GMANews.TV