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posted: 10/30/2012 5:00 AM

Chef du Jour: Arlington Heights chef teaches, caters, cooks for the community

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  • Chef Lucia Biscaglio runs a personal chef and catering service in Arlington Heights and gets much joy from teaching classes.

      Chef Lucia Biscaglio runs a personal chef and catering service in Arlington Heights and gets much joy from teaching classes.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

  • Chef Lucia Biscaglio finds recipe inspiration in leftovers and enjoys combining ingredients in new or unexpected ways.

      Chef Lucia Biscaglio finds recipe inspiration in leftovers and enjoys combining ingredients in new or unexpected ways.
    Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

By Sally Eyre
Daily Herald Correspondent

After raising six children and teaching dance for 30 years, Lucia Biscaglio decided it was finally time to indulge in her third passion: cooking.

She enrolled in the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago and graduated with an associate degree in Culinary Arts. She has worked with chef Jody Williams at Morandi in New York, and served as assistant chef to Food Network star Ted Allen during the Robert Mondavi Private Selection Crush in 2007.

After graduating, chef Biscaglio opened Piatti Pronti, a unique establishment that serves as a storefront for gourmet takeout meals, a catering service and a cooking school, all in one. Piatti Pronti, which means "the dishes are ready" in Italian, specializes in Mediterranean food and was named the Arlington Heights 2010 Emerging Business of the Year.

Who has been most supportive and inspirational to you in your career? My children. It was my daughter who put my name in at a career fair saying that I was interested in attending culinary school. When I received the call I was surprised that they thought I had just graduated high school and wanted to pursue a degree in culinary. My children sent me off to college on my first day the same way I sent them, with well wishes and love. I still have my son's message on my phone that says "Hey college girl, have a great first day. I will be thinking about you."

You have a large family -- six children! How much does your ancestry and feelings about family, influence your cooking? Immensely, I cook from the heart. My grandmother was my first teacher. She lived with us and raised me after my dad died when I was four. I looked forward to coming home every day after school just to see what we would be cooking. I still see my little fists punching the dough down when I make homemade bread at Piatti Pronti. Italian cooking is my first love but I am also a French chef. I love to emulate one of my peers, Julia Child, as much as possible.

How does your business fill a need in the community? I started out thinking I would have a restaurant, but it never turned out that way because I couldn't comply with what the village wanted in regards to the existing bathrooms, because I am in an old building and financially it wasn't happening. In turn I became everyone's personal chef in Arlington Heights and the surrounding area. If someone has dietary restrictions or wants me to cook one of their mom's favorite recipes they just call, or stop by. I have one customer who calls me every week for the same dinner of tilapia with mashed potatoes and vegetables. The funny thing is, it wasn't on my menu. I have an open kitchen concept. If I am here and you want to eat, I can tell you what I have and if we agree, I will make it for you. We are "Good Food, Made Fresh not Fast Food."

You serve as a personal chef or caterer, prepare meals for takeout, and teach cooking classes. Which role do you enjoy the most? Teaching. Before I went to culinary school I was a dance teacher for 30 years. I love being able to pass down what others have taught me. There is something so rewarding in watching people create something out of nothing and feeling really proud of what they have accomplished. I come from a family of educators and it doesn't stop with me.

What mistakes do you see novice cooks making most often? Knife skills. It is very important to have good kitchen safety skills and it starts with a sharp knife and knowing how to handle and use it. I teach a Knife Skills class at least once a month at Piatti Pronti. If you want to know how to cook … it's important to start with the basics. There is nothing more basic then learning how to cut.

How do you help cooks gain confidence in the kitchen? I usually share stories about myself so they get to know my nature. I also have a good sense of humor. I usually demonstrate a technique first and I turn them loose. I tell everyone that takes a class with me to expect to get down and dirty. When we make pizza for an example, I say, "The Pizza Police will not be coming by to make sure your pizza is perfectly round … any size or shape is acceptable." It's important to enjoy cooking in order for someone to want to do it.

What other basic skills that all cooks should have? They should understand the different types of cooking such as sauté, bake, braise, steam, broil, etc. ... It is also important to have some understanding about common measurements and be able to identify spices, herbs, fruits and vegetables.

What are your favorite kitchen tools? My bench scraper, my chef knife and my hands -- not necessarily in that order.

You hold cooking birthday parties; any tips for getting into the kitchen, and getting them to eat vegetables? The cooking party is designed depending on the age of the children. If they are little ones, for instance, I may pre-make the shells for the pizzas. However, they then finish the pizzas and we cook them off and they eat them.

About veggies … I never had a problem getting my children to eat vegetables. I guess it is because they were always there and in something we made and I ate them. I think the best way is to be creative. I remember designing plates with peas, carrots and string beans. I would make faces out of the veggies.

Tell us about this recipe: Creamy Lemon Fettuccine with Asparagus and Salmon happened because I was thinking about what I had in the refrigerator at the restaurant. Some of my best ideas or recipes have come from leftovers or just having a little bit of this or that. I was driving home last night after having an appetizer and canapé class and I was thinking about what we had left. I knew I had fettuccine so I had a start. Garlic is a must and I continued to build flavors -- lemon, asparagus some extra lox we had from the Salmon Tartare, and there you have it … a recipe is born. This recipe is quick and easy and full of wonderful flavors.

Try it at home or call Piatti Pronti, (847) 342-8444.

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