Local cook to compete for national chef title

March 30, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

Elise Lalor shows off her winning recipe, laced lamb with figs, which brought her to the Manischewitz Cook-Off in New York in February. Contributed

Elise Lalor shows off her winning recipe, laced lamb with figs, which brought her to the Manischewitz Cook-Off in New York in February. Contributed

Carefree in their 20s, Elise and Joseph Lalor didn’t care too much for cooking or what was on their plates.
“If there was a pill we could have taken and still have gotten all our nutritional values from it, we would have done it,” Joseph Lalor said. “But today, it’s almost sacrilege to think that way.”

What started as a necessity has turned into a passion for culinary experimentation for Elise, and a new pastime for Joseph. 

“He’s become quite the taster, as long as it’s not seafood,” she said.Elise’s menus at their Issaquah home are perfectly balanced pieces of perfection designed to please the palette.

Butterflying chicken, making alder- or cedar-planked salmon or hiking for morel mushrooms are not inordinate lengths for her to go to prepare an appetizing meal for dinner parties.

But Elise’s passion isn’t just shared with friends and family. She has also become quite the competitor at cooking contests. 

Her very first in 1980 sent the Lalors to a San Francisco winery, from their first residence in New York, to show off her skills after her recipe won first place. 

After a long hiatus from competitions and a venture into oil painting, Elise began entering contests again about five years ago; she has since won numerous competitions for her delectable creations. She was also featured on “Seattle Cooks,” a cooking show on Seattle’s television station KCTS. 

Last month, Elise, with Joseph in tow, traveled to New York to test her culinary expertise against five other national contestants at the Manischewitz Cook-Off in Times Square.

The recipe that set her apart from 6,000 others who originally entered was her laced lamb with figs. 

“It is a new way of cooking and living. It is not part of our everyday life, so it was a fascinating challenge,” she said of kosher cooking. “I felt very lucky to have been selected, because win or lose, it is a great event.”

When she got to the challenge, however, the culinary staff had selected the wrong cut of lamb for her dish, part of the reason it turned out so tough, she said. 

“There was nothing I could do,” she said, shrugging. “So, I cooked what I had.”

Despite a loss in New York, Elise is already on her way to another competition. She placed first in the Pacific region cook-off for the National Chicken Council’s annual competition for the best chicken recipe.

Of 13 other Western contestants’ recipes, Elise’s flattened chicken with herbs and sticky lemon won the Chicken Council’s regional trials Jan. 13. She’ll attend the national cook-off in San Antonio on May 2. 

“It’s just good luck,” she said of her recipe. “I didn’t actually plan on that recipe. I wanted to learn how to butterfly chicken. And at the time, we had my nephew visiting from Finland, and I was just trying to cook for a young man that eats a lot.”

If she cooks at the top of her game, she could win $50,000.

But even if she doesn’t take home the big prize, she said she’d keep cooking and keep their business, Rainier World Travel, going. 

Joseph said he isn’t worried about Elise finding time to concentrate on her second love.

“When we’ve had a rough day, I’ll come home and play my guitar, but she’ll walk into the kitchen, stand like a conductor, put her apron on, and begin cooking. Sometimes, she doesn’t even take off her work clothes,” he said. “On any other given day, when we don’t have company, she prefers to spend several hours in front of the computer entering cooking contests.”

“It’s just a hobby,” she said. “Some people have photography. Others do something else. I do cooking.” 

The couple said they now have plans to integrate cooking into their travel business. 

In the next few months, they plan to launch a travel Web site, www.travelforfoodies.com.

“It’s travel for people who like food and cooking as their destination,” Joseph said. 

Reach Reporter Chantelle Lusebrink at 392-6434, ext. 241, or clusebrink@isspress.com. Comment on this story at www.issaquahpress.com.

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One Response to “Local cook to compete for national chef title”

  1. D. Michael Cavalier on April 4th, 2009 5:56 pm

    When can I get one of the cookbooks? I’d love to have that recipe!!

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