NEW CANAAN, Conn. -- Folks in town know Angela Baldanza, owner of Baldanza Café in New Canaan, more for her work in the front of the house rather than in kitchen, but on Wednesday, Dec. 7 this self-taught chef surprised everyone by cooking her way to victory on Food Network's "Cooks vs. Cons 'Tis the Seasoning."
The culinary competition, hosted by Geoffrey Zakarian, sees talented home cooks go up against kitchen professionals. Culminating in a blind taste test to prove who has the best dish, Baldanza, a Pound Ridge, N.Y. resident, remained focused and calm as she prepared a rack of lamb followed by French toast and caramelized apples.
"I wasn't particularly nervous, but I was conscious how I was going to be perceived," she said.
"It was a long, hard day but such a thrill to win. For me, it's always about family and I knew they would be proud.”
Baldanza, who has run Baldanza Cafe with her husband and son for the past three and a half years, says she cooks based on instinct and learned a lot from her grandfather and brother, who were both chefs. With family from Genoa in Northern Italy and down South to Calabria, she was locked into family traditions at an early age and still remembers the dried mushrooms arriving from Italy in a cheese cloth sack which allowed her grandmother to make yellow rice (aka risotto flavored with saffron).
Before getting into hospitality, Baldanza was in the fashion business, with a career spanning 25 years. Her mantra is “food is the new fashion," as she believes there is an affinity between the two.
“I started at Bloomingdales when the customer was interested in high-end fashion, quality and source of materials," she said. "The focus was to make the best garment and food was emerging as 'fast food' on the run. Nowadays, there has been a switch because there's more education and awareness about food.
"Consumers are more conscious of what they are putting into their bodies, rather than on them, hence the emergence of 'fast fashion.'"
She emphasized that her restaurant only uses high-quality ingredients for the discerning diner and puts a lot of thought and execution into presenting a careful balance of colors and textures on the plate. All ingredients are natural, organic and local when available.
Like her mentor, Ina Garten, she hopes the Food Network win will help give her restaurant's brand more exposure. Said Baldanza: "My goals going forward are to complete our cook book, build Baldanza soup kitchen and continue to produce simple recipes using good clean food from sustainable resources."