What was your first job in a kitchen?
Salads and cold apps at the local Italian restaurant. It took me a while to get up to speed. Literally. I quickly earned the nickname Tortuga after spending hours in the dark, sketchy basement dicing onions and tomatoes. I thought I'd permanently stink of bruschetta, and it's a miracle I still have ten fingers.
What is the first dish you ever mastered?
Mock blintzes. A true culinary masterpiece! Nutritious white bread is rolled flat and filled with cream cheese, eggs, and sugar, then drenched in melted butter, rolled in cinnamon and sugar, and baked for eight very long minutes until perfection. If you were lucky enough to be in my first grade class, you would have had some.
What is your signature dish?
Any stories of triumph from the kitchen? Disaster?
In my final year of studying at the Culinary Institute of America, I pulled off my first big dinner party. I turned unrefined palates into serious foodies and even with seven courses' worth of pots, pans, and dishes piled on the floor, that feeling of success made it all worth it. My second triumph of the night was getting somebody else to do the dishes. Disaster? The time I meant to take a power nap in my car before dinner service and woke up hours later to my chef banging on my window asking where the hell I had been. Oops.
Who was your first cooking inspiration?
My appetite. Oh, did you mean a person? When I was a little girl, I loved to visit my grandparents on their farm. I'd sit on my grandpa's lap watching Yan Can Cook and help my grandma in the kitchen. I remember standing on a chair, my grandpa teaching me to make his famous "Smashed, bashed, and crashed" eggs. At home, you would find me perched on the kitchen counter just watching my mom cook for hours. I'd also like to mention my deep love for her mashed potatoes.
What's the one piece of advice you took away from Hell's Kitchen?
As cheesy as it sounds, never give up and always believe in yourself. But most importantly, it takes a man with a fancy accent screaming in your face for you to learn not to make the same mistake twice.
FOX Broadcasting Company - Dana Cohen - Hell's Kitchen on FOX - Official Site