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Chef Erin 

Favorite class to teach: Baking classes and anything on the patio!

Training/education: Baking and Pastry at the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, and a Master of Science in Chemistry from the University of Illinois.

Cooking since: I got my first cookbook at the age of 5 and I've never looked back!

Favorite childhood food experience: Making birthday cakes with my mom. She took all of the Wilton cake decorating classes – I had no idea that not everyone's mom could make buttercream roses.

What made you want to become a chef? The kitchen has always been my happy place, so I came to the realization that it just made good sense to spend as much time there as possible.

What is your signature dish? Dutch Apple Pie and Greek-Style Meatballs

What are the 5 ingredients you can't live without? Kerry Gold butter, Valrhona chocolate, olive oil shipped from my husband's family in Greece, cheese and peppercorns

What do you love about cooking? I love the full sensory experience of preparing and eating food – the colors, textures, smells, and sounds of the kitchen. More than anything, though, I love sharing food with others and the happiness that brings them.

When you're creating a new recipe, what influences and inspires you? A new and exciting ingredient, seasonal produce, all of the amazing chefs I've worked with.

What advice would you give a new cook? Make your kitchen a comfortable and organized place to work – minimize clutter, have good lighting, and put on some excellent music. Take it slow, master the basics, and PRACTICE!

What are you doing when you're not cooking? Spending time with my family, especially my new baby boy.

Describe your perfect evening. Gathering with friends and family for whole lamb on a spit, wine and music.

If you had friends in from out of town, where would you take them to eat? 90 Mile Cuban Cafe for empanadas and BYOB, Hopleaf for beer and snacks, Meli for brunch, Psistaria for the Sunday lamb special, or Santorini for char-grilled octopus.

Where are you from? I was born in the Ozarks of southern Missouri, and grew up in Indiana.

What was your favorite vacation? British Columbia – beautiful scenery and delicious food.

What are your hobbies? Reading and crafting, especially knitting.

What is your favorite band? Impossible to pick, but my favorite concert ever is the Metallica show where I met my husband.

What is your favorite sports team? The Indianapolis Colts!

If you could have dinner with one person, who would it be? My husband – with a little person in the house, time alone together is priceless.

What are your guilty pleasures? Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies, ice cream, cheese of any kind.

Who is your favorite celebrity chef? When I was younger, my favorite Food Network show was Good Eats with Alton Brown. I love how he delved into the science of cooking.

What 5 tools should every new cook have in the kitchen?

  • Good chef's knife
  • Cutting board
  • Saute pan
  • Silicone spatulas
  • If you want to bake, I highly recommend a sturdy stand mixer.

What resources would you suggest for Chopping Block students? For general cookery, the books by the folks at America's Test Kitchen are very well done, and they also have an online database. For pastry, I love Peter Reinhart's bread books and Alice Medrich has put out a ton of quality baking cooks.

List your favorite tips or techniques you use in the kitchen.

  • Always make sure your baking ingredients are at the correct temperature.
  • Get your knives professionally sharpened regularly if you don't feel comfortable doing it yourself; a sharp knife is a safe knife.
  • Clean as you go and work smarter, not harder.
Erin's Favorite Ingredient

vanilla_pasteI love our Nielsen Massey Vanilla Bean Paste. As a pastry chef, I've scraped hundreds of fresh vanilla beans in kitchens around the country, but in my own home this is the product I reach for. Not only are the flavor and aroma on par with the freshest of imported vanilla beans, but it's also much more economical and easier to store.

Vanilla bean paste can be used in place of extract in any baked good and is also a delicious addition to sweet beverages - try it out in hot chocolate or even your morning coffee!