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posted: 6/18/2014 5:30 AM

Chef du Jour: Catching up with Gale Gand over 'Lunch!'

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  • Chef Gale Gand, of Riverwoods, wants people to give lunch its due and offers dozens of ways to celebrate the midday meal in "Gale Gand's Lunch!"

    Chef Gale Gand, of Riverwoods, wants people to give lunch its due and offers dozens of ways to celebrate the midday meal in "Gale Gand's Lunch!"
    Courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

  • "Gale Gand's Lunch!"

    "Gale Gand's Lunch!"

By Deborah Pankey

When given the opportunity to talk with celebrated chef Gale Gand about her new book, "Gale Gand's Lunch!," it seemed only natural to suggest we meet for lunch.

So the other day I headed to Saranello's in Wheeling. Selecting the Lettuce Entertain You eatery not far from her home in Riverwoods was a no-brainer; she's still a partner in LEYE's crown jewel, Tru, even though she's handed over day-to-day operations to a new generation of chefs.

"This is so nice," says Gand, settling into a chair by the window, her hair still damp from a rushed shower sandwiched between getting her three kids (Gio, 17, and 9-year-old twins Ella and Ruby) fed and out the door, a slew of phone calls and cooking class preparation.

"Lunch," she says, "is the neglected step child," of daily meals. That's why she has dedicated her eighth cookbook to the afternoon repast.

"Lunch!" is packed with fun, creative recipes for snacks, salads, soups, drinks, treats and, of course, sandwiches, including such kid-friendly sammies as grilled cheese (on white bread) and PB&J (she prefers crunchy peanut butter and grape jelly). For more mature palates, she offers options like Grilled Skirt Steak with Arugula sandwich, Rustic Ratatouille Tart and Peppermint Meringue Kisses.

Here's an edited version of our lunchtime conversation.

What do you remember about lunch as a child? We didn't pack a lunch for school. I'd go home and have matzo ball soup, a sandwich, a glass of milk and watch "Bozo's Circus." But in the summer for camp my mom would make me salami and brick cheese on Deerfield's rye. The cheese would get kind of melty in the heat. That sandwich was a connection to my mom. There's really no way to recreate that sandwich.

What are your thoughts on school lunches today? When Gio (now a high school graduate) was younger, I'd find excuses to go to his school and spy on the kids to see what they were eating. ... I was a culinary cop. Everything was in cellophane and everything had a logo on it. ... Later I joined Michelle Obama's Chefs Move to School program. I'd show up in my chef's whites and walk the hallways, give hands-on demonstrations at lunch and we started fry-free Fridays. People just need a little encouragement. We want to give the kids a better relationship with food, with chefs.

Years ago Alice Waters started the School Lunch Initiative (to connect nutrition learning in the classroom, edible gardens and school lunches). I'm saddened that we have not accomplished this yet.

As an adult, how do you view lunchtime? I've always worked in restaurants and people think we eat all day, but we don't. Sometimes I'd get home from work and be starving. I was probably eating too much late at night and not eating enough during the day. One day when I packed Gio's lunch I packed one for myself. It was nice to take a few minutes to sit down and eat.

Now you have lunch parties instead of dinner parties? With me working late at the restaurant and my father and brother are musicians ... I found that if I wanted to have my family over it would have to be for lunch. There are less expectations with lunch than for dinner. You don't feel like you have to serve courses; it's more relaxed.

Right before "Lunch!" hit shelves, you also opened Spritz Burger in Chicago with Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh (aka The Hearty Boys). How do you find the time? The restaurant opened eight weeks before the book came out, so yes, it's been a little crazy. I've been friends with Dan and Steve a long time and Dan and I like cooking together, we have a good time together, it's nice to have a collaborator. And we thought, "why not ruin the friendship by opening a restaurant together?" Ironically, Spritz Burger is open for dinner only (and weekend brunch). There is a recipe or two from the book on the menu. Pea and Garlic Dip is a great starter and great to smear on a sandwich.

You were on Food Network in its early days. How has food television changed, and would you like to get back into it? "Sweet Dreams" changed my career, it was the first all-pastry, all-dessert show on Food Network. It was a great way to connect with a lot of people all at once. It helps book sales and I have a fan base. There was a Food Network 20th anniversary party and I was part of the "old regime." Gio's college fund is courtesy of Food Network and ramps (for several years Gio has harvested wild ramps and sold them to local restaurants).

Food, cooking has become a sport ... people want to see behind-the-scenes, like an opera or ballet. I don't blame them. The kitchen is dramatic, with fire and knives and chaos; it's dangerous back there. If something came along I'd be happy to do it. I have to load up the girls' 529 (college savings) plans!

Tell us about this Chicken Salad with Dried Cranberries, Fennel and Toasted Almonds. Chicken salad can be made in about a million different ways. No matter how I make it, I always include something crunchy, whether it's the typical chopped celery or something a little different. In this version, the crunch comes from fennel and almonds. Tart dried cranberries add punch, but feel free to try another dried fruit, such as dried cherries or chopped dried apricots.

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