Q&A With Celebrity Chef Holli Ugalde, Winner of Hell's Kitchen, Season Seven

Holli Ugalde isn't in California anymore.
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Instead of dishing out her notoriously health-conscious, organic fare in her home state, the winner of Fox's Hell's Kitchen season seven is now cooking for South Florida.

Thanks to a "perfect" partnership with the B Ocean Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, Ugalde is overseeing the kitchen at one of the hotel's two restaurants, B'stro. 

Charlie recently caught up with Ugalde to learn more about her thoughts on food -- and Florida. Here's what B Ocean B'stro restaurant chef had to say:

Clean Plate Charlie: Since you came to B Ocean in Fort Lauderdale, your main role has been to create signature dishes for the hotel. Tell us how the opportunity came about?

I joined the B Ocean team nearly a year before they even opened. I met them through a previous work experience, and it was a perfect fit from day one.

We are trying to provide local foodies a unique experience and the opportunity to learn some of my recipes. I have worked hard to ensure that B'stro has a multitude of interesting menu items, and I'm excited to share them with all the guests of the B.

What do you want participants to get out of the interactive cooking classes you are offering at the hotel?

My goal is always to expose people to new ingredients. I tend to utilize ingredients that are... a little less common, and I love to teach people about them.

What's it been like so far? 

B Ocean is the first location where I have complete creative freedom, and I love it! I can create anything that sounds delicious, and I get the chance to experiment all the time.

With all that freedom, I'm sure there have been a few tough decisions. What's been your biggest challenge?

Since I am not from Florida, it was a little tough to know exactly what I could get in fresh (which veggies, fish, herbs, etc.), but in the end, I have been pleasantly surprised at the quality and availability of the local produce.

You're from California, so I imagine it's got to be a whole different ball game here. What other curveballs has Florida thrown your way?

The humidity has been a bit of a challenge! There are two fresh pasta dishes on the B'stro menu, and both took a little reworking. My test kitchen is in California, so it makes a big difference in pasta and baking.

Name a few items on the menu you've created that you're especially proud of...

The new B'stro menu [coming soon] will feature my new gluten-free gnocchi, and they are delicious! Also, look for the mojito panna cotta. It's the best summer dessert I've ever made.

Humidity aside, how do you like South Florida so far? 

I love the Fort Lauderdale area, especially the beach. I was recently treated to an incredible chef's tasting menu at 3030 Ocean, and wow! What great seafood!

Do you use any Florida-specific fare? 

When the new menu comes out, I am going to be incorporating some more Florida-specific ingredients. I've learned a lot about the area since starting with B Ocean, so I am excited to get some new items out. We are now working hard on sourcing as many local ingredients as possible.

I hear your mother owned a health food store. Can you tell me how this has influenced the food choices you make, and the way you cook?

My mother owning a health foods store was the reason I had to learn to cook. I was hungry! Aside from thinking that carob was chocolate for the first 12 years of my life, my mother was instrumental in teaching me all about healthy foods. Since that time, I have done classes or events for people with diets that are gluten-free, raw, low-fat, high-protein, vegan, kosher, and Muslim.

How has that translated into your choices at B'stro?

My gluten-free gnocchi are the perfect example of how people on modified diets can still eat delicious food.

What is your favorite food to work with? 

My favorite ingredients are leeks, fennel, and pancetta. Add these three ingredients to anything and it becomes amazingly flavorful and complex.

I don't want to get too much into Hell's Kitchen, but can you tell me how the show -- and the experience -- influenced what you are doing now when it comes to cooking?

I had the opportunity to work with one of the world's best chefs and use ingredients that are typically too expensive to experiment with in a standard kitchen. It changed my perspective on food completely.

What did you learn about yourself as a chef?

I had actually been a pastry chef for three years before Hell's Kitchen, so it was really about relearning the line and how to move as fast as possible without making mistakes. The whole experience taught me confidence, above all else.

What is one of your favorite, easy recipes to cook at home for your son? Any quick, flavorful (even organic) choices you can share?

My son loves to have breakfast for dinner, so sometimes we will just make a simple frittata. Mix together some eggs, pancetta, leeks, green onions, smoked Gouda, and in about 20 minutes, we have a wonderful meal. I buy all organic produce and eggs, so this dish is 100 percent organic, and it's even gluten-free.

You have your own line of olive oil. What makes it different than -- say -- the olive oil you find in the grocery store?

This is the best olive oil and balsamic vinegar I have ever had. Seriously. It was my first [venture] because I could not pass up the opportunity to sell such an amazing product. The vinegar is imported from Italy, where it has been aging for up to 25 years, and is flavored with fresh fruit in Napa Valley. All it takes is one bowl of vanilla bean gelato with a drizzle of my vanilla fig balsamic vinegar on it and you'll be hooked too.

You also have a cookbook and a web-based cooking show (Fire and Spice). What will people learn from each?

The cookbook is still in its very early stages and will not be out for some time. Fire and Spice, my new travel show, will be out in July and is going to be incredible. My friend Desiree Anderson and I travel the world with the help of our fans, who decide where we go, what we do, and what we eat. It's a wild show, and the best part is that it will be hosted for free online at FireandSpice.TV.

You even (gosh, you're busy!) have your own signature line of cookware. What makes your cookware different, and who is the "user" you envision as the perfect fit for these products?

The cookware is handmade by Vitacraft in the USA and is the highest-quality stainless-steel cookware on the market. It is designed for the serious home cook but is tough enough to be used in a commercial kitchen. It has a lifetime warranty and is available now at ChefHolli.com and at the B Ocean B'stro.

Follow Clean Plate Charlie Facebook on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.

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