Coast Monthly poses 10 questions to an intriguing resident of the Texas Coast.
Chef Mary Bass earlier this year was just steps away from winning on the Food Network cooking competition show “Cutthroat Kitchen.” She even survived making breakfast enchiladas dressed like one. Alas, the Dickinson resident lost out on an ice cream-making challenge.
We catch up with Bass, who is a culinary instructor at Alvin Community College, an executive chef at Haak Vineyard & Winery in Santa Fe and is among chefs who teach cooking classes at The Kitchen Chicken in downtown Galveston.
Had you won on “Cutthroat Kitchen,” how would you have spent the prize money?
At the end of the ice cream round, I was down in the $10,000 range. Some of the money would have gone to a memorial scholarship in my mother-in-law’s name to the culinary school. She always supported both mine and my husband Tim’s dreams of becoming chefs. She passed away in January 2009, after her second battle with Leukemia. It would have been great for her to see how far we’ve made it. And I would have gone to Disney will all my littles.
Do you cook well under pressure?
I actually prefer it. I move better, my dance is cleaner, the adrenaline makes me focused and I’m able to communicate more clearly.
Why do you think America is enamored with reality cooking shows?
For a long time, chefs were on a pedestal in the kitchen. Their art was seen, but they were never heard. Through networks like Bravo and Food Network, chefs now have celebrity status, virtual rock stars to their followers. Americans are always looking forward to the next hot thing and being a chef is hot right now.
What is the quintessential dish on the upper Texas Coast?
Gulf seafood. Shrimp, red fish, oysters, grouper, cobia, tile or snapper … pick your favorite. Galveston has a wonderful place to shop for the freshest seafood you can get your hands on — Katie’s Seafood. They also participate in a program called Gulf Wild, where they track the fish from where it was caught straight to your plate.
What’s the strangest food you’ve ever eaten? And did you like it?
I had crickets this year. I think it was in mezcal. They were pretty magical. I’ve also had ostrich and barbecue grub worms. I’m getting better at eating strange food.
What’s your favorite comfort food?
Zuppa Toscana, and I make the most amazing zuppa. Rustic cut potatoes, kale, link and ground sausage, prosciutto, coconut milk and cream all come together. It’s my happy belly food.
Do you have a go-to meal when entertaining guests?
My favorites are a beautiful cheese board and tropical sangria. If you are coming over to my house, you can pretty much count on those staples being there.
What’s the last meal you made?
A Southern Gulf shrimp with poblano grits. We made our own shrimp stock from the shells of the shrimp.
Do you have a food-related pet peeve?
Chefs who plate with tweezers or edible flowers. I’m a chef that prefers food that tastes good, looks amazing and makes you full.
What food trends are you noticing around here?
A true return to scratch cooking; knowing where your ingredients come from by sourcing locally. From seafood markets to farmers markets, go and meet your fisherman, go meet your farmer, meet your butcher. You are not just supporting a local business, but you are getting the best options for your family. Many restaurants on the island are already doing this. Family-style dining will start to become more popular this next year.