Untraditional recipe for a culinary career Cookbook author sees school as key to opening own low-fat restaurant

June 23, 1993|By Karol V. Menzie | Karol V. Menzie,Staff Writer

To some people, Carol Lindblom's path in the food field migh seen a little mixed up. First she was a home cook for many years, then she published a cookbook. Then she decided to go to culinary school. Then she was chosen to represent the state of Maryland in a major national cooking contest.

But Ms. Lindblom, who will graduate from the Baltimore International Culinary College with an associate of arts degree in September, has a dream, and that's the path she's had to follow to realize it.

"I want to open a low-fat restaurant," she says. She envisions an informal place "where you could take anyone," where the menu will meet the needs of people watching what they eat and please the palates of everyone with food that's not too fancy, but not quite down home.

She learned to cook that way when her former husband had heart trouble and needed to lose weight; her experiences in modifying old recipes and inventing new ones led to her book, "EATWISE" (Potomac Valley Press, 1992, $14.95, under her pen name, Carol Linden). She realized there were many people to whom sensible but somewhat modified eating would appeal, and that's when she began to envision the restaurant.

"But when I went to the bank," she says, "they said, 'Do you have any experience' running a restaurant? When I said no, they said, 'We don't want to talk to you.' The next logical step seemed to be to go to school."

Ms. Lindblom is pursuing a professional cooking course at the culinary college. Her next goal is to work in a restaurant. A graduating student usually starts at the bottom of the kitchen hierarchy, she says, and typically it takes 3 to 5 years to work up to a chef's position.

"At that point I'll have all the experience I need," she says with a smile.

She already has some experience cooking under pressure. On May 20, she prepared her tropical chicken recipe, chosen to represent Maryland, for the National Broiler Council's 40th National Chicken Cooking Contest cook-off in Richmond, Va. The event is a three-hour marathon of preparing the entered dish twice -- once for public tasting, once for judges' tasting -- in a small space, on an electric stove ("I can't remember the last time I cooked on an electric stove," she says), while interested members of the public stroll around asking questions.

Ms. Lindblom didn't win in Richmond, but she did win a student cooking event earlier this month. She placed third in a contest to develop low-fat recipes for National Fruit and Vegetable Month, June. Her entry, called "Asparagus with Sole," featured blanched asparagus baked inside a wrap of tender fish.

Ms. Lindblom is an unusual student because she has such a clear idea of what she wants from her education; but that's not surprising when you consider that she's also unusual in being, at 54, one of the older students at the school. "I'm not the oldest," she says, laughing, "but I'm close."

She grew up in Jacksonville, Ala., and got her first cooking experience at home. "Mom and Dad always had me help with the evening meal," she recalls. Mashing potatoes and making gravy were two early tasks. She has followed the same course with her own children. "From the time my children were able to stand on a kitchen chair -- I would back that chair up to the sink and they would help" with meal preparation. Her daughter and two sons now range in age from 24 to 30. "They all cook, and they all cook well," she says.

She also learned from watching TV cooking shows, "and trying things out," she says. She treasures her culinary school experience for what she calls "the ah-ha! moments," when a task becomes clear or a skill comes together. "I've had them in every class," she says. "In every class there's been an 'ooooh.' "

She's just returned from six weeks at the culinary college's facility in Ireland, a country inn in Virginia, County Cavan, where the course was classic French cuisine under award-winning chef Peter Timmins. Among other things, she says, the course gave )) her "a fairly good grasp of kitchen French."

She found Ireland beautiful -- "You can see why they call it the Emerald Isle" -- and chilly. Virginia, the small town near the inn, "is sort of remote," she says, "a country farming town. There are lots of pubs, but no movie theater." Students found time to visit nearby castles and make several trips to Dublin.

Ms. Lindblom got home just in time to run down to Richmond for the chicken cook-off. The event is surrounded by social activities and tours, she says, during which contestants are treated like royalty. When next year's contest is held in Atlanta in April, she says, "I plan to be there."

When she began working on recipes for her cookbook, Ms. Lindblom started with favorite and familiar recipes, examining them to see if the ingredients lent themselves to low-fat treatment. Some things don't, she points out.

"A fried egg is a fried egg, I don't care what you do to it."

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