Meet the Maker: Elyse Fischer
If I had to describe Elyse in one word it would be warm-hearted (does that count as one word?). She is a genuinely lovely person who is always generous with her time and her talent. She’s the friend who, when I’m planning a dinner party or event, calls to ask what she can do before I’ve even thought about what needs doing–and thinks of the things I forget. She is an amazing chef and always brings something wonderful to the table. Fortunately for me, my cousin Blake was smart enough to marry her, so I happily get to enjoy her cooking often since she’s both family and friend. For this Meet the Maker feature, photographer Courtney Waugh and I spent a slow meal in Elyse’s kitchen: babies playing on the floor, mamas cooking, chatting, and, of course, eating.
Where did you learn to cook?
I learned to cook from my grandparents and my dad; a big Italian family that always had food around, always cooking together and sharing meals together.
What are your biggest influences in cooking?
My grandparents, for sure. They are my favorite people to call up and talk about recipes or ideas: “What do you think I should do for this or I made this–doesn’t that sound good?” And my dad as well. We love sending food pictures to each other. Most of our phone conversations consist of us talking about food. So my family, and the people around me. Maggie [Humphreys] and all the food swap people are so amazing. Seeing what they are doing and making on social media is a big source of inspiration. I also love Ina Garten, the Barefoot Contessa. She’s one of my favorites. I hope one day that my kitchen looks like hers–one of her kitchens! [laughs]
What do you like best about your kitchen?
I love the stove. When we remodeled, we upgraded to a gas stove with really powerful burners. That was really important to me because in our old house it took forever to just boil a pot of water. I also like the open concept, so when I’m cooking I can talk to people who are at the table and not have my back to someone.
What was the moment when you decided to go to culinary school?
I was going to UCO for education. I had originally wanted to go to culinary school right out of high school–it’s what I always wanted to do, but my family talked me out of it. They have a restaurant and kept saying how it’s such hard work and hard on your family and you’ll be working when everyone else isn’t working, which is all true. So I put that dream on hold for a while to go to college. When Blake and I started dating and he was doing my homework for me, he said maybe I should rethink culinary school because that was what I really loved to do. He was a big source of encouragement. It was a really good decision for me.
Can you tell me more about your family’s restaurant?
It is an Italian family restaurant with a really great bar and deli. My aunt makes probably 20 different kinds of salads every day and you can also get meat and cheeses from the deli. They have a huge catering business at the restaurant and a big banquet room now. The original restaurant was in downtown Elkhart [Indiana] and they moved to the outskirts of town to a location with a great bar, a banquet room, a giant kitchen and catering area and a really nice dining room. They’ve been around for over 30 years in Elkhart.
What’s the name of the restaurant?
Lucchese’s Italian Restauant.
Did you grow up in and out of the kitchen?
Definitely. My cousins and I grew up waiting tables, busing tables, cutting bread, making pasta. All their pastas are fresh made. We did anything and everything. Endless amounts of cherry coke on tap. [laughs] That was the coolest thing as a kid to go up and help yourself before places had the self serve coke machines. That was always really cool.
I spent many summers working there and the summer between my junior and senior year I worked all summer at the restaurant. That was when I was thinking more about going to culinary school so, during the day, I would go to each of my great aunt and uncles houses to learn their speciality. So I learned how to make bread with my Uncle Frank and how to make this traditional Easter cake with my Aunt Kay. I made these cheese pastries with my Uncle Ralph and Aunt Shelley. It was really special. I have a little family cook book that my aunt made for me with all of the family recipes and pictures from that summer.
So, since culinary school, you worked in the restaurants and catering for Chesapeake, and now you are a personal chef. Tell me about that.
Basically, I quit working at Chesapeake two summers ago. I was ready to move out of corporate life and into a slower pace. We wanted to start a family, so I decided to try and get a personal chef business going before I had kids. So I’ve been doing that the past two years. I work for a few families and it’s been a huge blessing because it’s very flexible. I’m basically doing great food for either families and some for Tapstone Energy meetings. It’s been really fun to do something that lets me be a mom and also gives me an opportunity to do something extra that I really love.
What are your favorite kinds of catering jobs to do?
Small dinner parties with 6-10 people, especially if they are open to different flavors and trying new foods.
What ingredient can you not get enough of right now?
Right now, basil. In the summer, it’s fresh herbs and lots of fresh produce. I like really acidic things, so i use lots of vinegar and lemon. I cook with those things a lot.
What kitchen gadget can you not live without?
My microplane. I use it pretty much every time I cook. A good knife; a good cutting board; my lemon juicer. The one I use is from Williams Sonoma. I kept buying cheaper ones and they would crack and break. This one is amazing because it’s so durable. I use it almost every time I cook because I use lemon a lot in my cooking.
Favorite local eatery?
I like anything from Good Egg a lot. I love Ted’s as far as Mexican food goes. We don’t eat out a whole lot because, especially with a little one, it’s easier to cook and home and stick with our routine in the evenings.
What is unique about the food scene in Oklahoma?
I think it’s unique how everyone is so supportive in Oklahoma, Everyone is really encouraging and positive. I’m sure there is competition, but whenever a new place opens, the community is really excited about it and eager to try something new. I think Oklahoma City is a great place to open up a new restaurant because Oklahomans are really interested in trying new things.
Do you have dreams of someday opening a restaurant?
I don’t know. We go back and forth, Blake and I, we talk about it. It’s just so much work and its one of those things that sounds so romantic, but we want our kids to be our main focus as far as where we spend our time, so I don’t know how that would look. I feel like we will own something in the future; maybe not a restaurant, but we’ll see.
Describe a favorite meal.
It would be with friends and family and people who I love gathered around the table. There would definitely have to be cheese and wine and bread involved. And pasta. Just a meal shared around the table with the people I love.
What is the most satisfying part of your making process, and why?
I love being in my kitchen and creating: getting an idea and going with it. Blake always laughs at me because I get on kicks, like pasta right now, where that’s all I make. He thinks I’m hilarious because I’m literally always thinking about food. We’ll be somewhere, like at the Wheeler thing the other night. I turned to him and we’re there talking about a new community and I’m like what if I made this kind of pasta? And he just laughed and said when are you not thinking about food!
What do you love about living in Oklahoma?
I love the community of people that we are a part of. I love that we are close to family and friends. Those are the main things.
How can someone hire you to cook for them?
Email me at elysefischer [at] me dot com.