Chef Nancy Cordi

Temecula, Calif., has long been farm country. And where there are farms there’s bound to be good food, especially in Southern California, where the weather and crops take a page from the climate of the Mediterranean. Nancy Cordi, who grew up north of Temecula, just outside of L.A. in Torrance, comes from a Middle Eastern family. “I was born and raised around happy, beautiful people who surrounded themselves with laughter and, of course, fantastic cooking,” she says. “I was always drawn to cooking at a young age and as I got older, I wanted to carry on the traditions of Middle Eastern cooking, which later evolved into Mediterranean foods.”

Nancy found that many countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea use quality, healthy ingredients in their foods, bringing life into their dishes without masking the flavors. Since she couldn’t travel as often as she’d like, she decided to bring the Mediterranean to California, focusing on the foods of Greece, Lebanon, Israel, and Italy.

Like many people who found their way into life as a personal chef, Nancy originally was working the traditional 40-hour-a-week corporate job and catering on the side. That lasted for about five years. Then less than a year ago, she and her husband Edouard relocated to Temecula. After 21 years of corporate life, Nancy liberated herself and dove into cooking full time, “proudly becoming a certified personal chef through the APPCA,” she says. Her new business is Mediterranea, a Personal and Private Chef Service.

“This catapulted me to a whole new level,” she marvels. “Within a year I have gone from personal chef to also being the chef at a shop where I prepare fresh, healthy, grab-n-go lunches in their kitchen. I am now specializing in vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and paleo diets, all with that fantastic Mediterranean flare! I’m finally living the dream of making a positive impact on people’s lives by creating dishes using fresh local produce and focusing on reducing sodium levels while keeping my food vibrant and healthy by eliminating preservatives as well.

“I’m very thankful to the APPCA for offering this opportunity to become certified and giving me the boost I needed to take my skills to the next level. I’m a blessed woman and now proud chef!”

Nancy has given us a couple of refreshing summer recipes to share here for her Stuffed Grape Leaves and Classic Middle Eastern Hummus:

Nancy Cordi's Grape Leaf Lunch

Stuffed Grape Leaves

Prep Time: 45 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Yield: About 50 pieces

Ingredients

50-60 fresh grape leaves or 1 16-ounce jar of brined grape leaves (Note: brined grape leaves are packed by weight so the quantity will vary from jar to jar.)

1 cup olive oil, divided into 1/2 cups
1 1/2 cups uncooked long-grain rice
1 cup dried garbanzo beans
1/2 cup julienne sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons dried mint
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon garlic powder
Juice of two lemons

Preparation

Soak  garbanzo beans in salted water overnight or simmer beans for 1 1/2 hours until they are twice their size. They must be soft and tender before draining.

Rinse brined leaves well to remove brine and set aside.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat 1/2 cup olive oil. Add rice, garbanzo beans, sun-dried tomatoes, cumin, mint, salt, garlic powder and juice of 1 lemon. Stir for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the filling to cool.

Line the bottom of a heavy saucepan with 2 or 3 grape leaves, using the broken or torn ones for this.

Rolling the grape leaves: Place a leaf with the stem towards you on a flat surface. The underside of the leaf, with the raised veins, should be face up. Using the point of a sharp paring knife, cut out the stem of the leaf. Overlap the bottom 2 sections of the leaf toward the center.

Place a tablespoon of filling in the bottom center of the leaf, just above where the stem was. Fold the bottom section up to cover the filling. Fold in the sides toward the center. Continue rolling the packet upwards toward the top of the leaf.

Place the rolls in layers in the saucepan, seam side down. Pour the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil over the grape leaves and enough water to cover them by an inch. Place an inverted heat-proof plate on top of the rolls to keep them submerged in the water. Cover the saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes to an hour or until leaves are tender and the rice filling is cooked through.

Before serving, squeeze the juice of 1 lemon over the grape leaves.

Nancy Cordi's Stuffed Grape Leaves

Classic Middle Eastern Hummus

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Inactive prep time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

1 cup dried garbanzo beans
1/2 cup grape seed oil
Juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon tahini (optional but recommended)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt to taste
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup raw pine nuts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Chopped parsley for garnish

Directions

Soak  garbanzo beans in salted water overnight or simmer beans for 1 1/2 hours until they are twice their size. They must be soft and tender before draining.

In a food processor, add drained garbanzo beans, grape seed oil, lemon juice, tahini, cumin, and garlic powder. Blend until smooth. Taste and add a pinch of salt or a squeeze of lemon juice if needed. Set aside.

In a small skillet, toast pine nuts on low heat until slightly golden brown. Remove from heat and allow to cool.

Add hummus to a bowl or platter and sprinkle smoked paprika and pine nuts on top. Finish with olive oil. You can also garnish with chopped parsley.

  Nancy Cordi's Hummus

———–

Pitch

It isn’t every day that a personal chef gets this close to hitting the big time. And, yet, APPCA member and personal chef Nicole Gaffney has made it to the final three in Food Network Star. It was a nail biter of an episode. Still in New York at the Gotham West Market in Hell’s Kitchen, each of the four remaining contestants were tasked with creating a 30-second video promo of their proposed show. Food Network execs Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson would review the promos and greenlight three of them to go on to produce a pilot. This pilot would be viewed by all of us at home. Then we get to vote and select the competition’s ultimate winner.

Nicole was up first with her promo highlighting her proposed show on global coastal cuisine. Susie like the camera comfort and down home style Nicole showed, but worried that without global expertise, which Nicole admitted she lacked. Bob, too, was concerned that her concept was too broad, and thought it should be narrowed to American coastal cuisine, which Nicole knows.

The moment of truth came after the other three contestants faced Bob and Susie with their promos and Sara was eliminated. That placed Nicole with Lenny and Luca in the final three and off they were to film their pilots, which were to feature their point of view and expertise.

And who was the Food Network director of these pilots? Robert Irvine. “I hope this isn’t going to be an episode of Pilot Impossible,” Nicole joked.

Nicole focused on Louisiana coastal cuisine for her pilot, “My Coastal Kitchen.” She got off to a shaky start by nervously reciting recipe ingredients and Irvine stopped her cold. He wanted more of her, not an ingredient list. More stories. And, importantly, he asked her if she was having fun, to which she retorted, “Not as much as I should!” This is about fun, Irvine reminded her–and that simple tip revved up her energy levels. By the time we saw the actual pilot, Nicole had fully mastered her presentation of New Orleans-Style “BBQ” Clams, telling charming family stories, taking swigs from a bottle of beer, and offering some terrific cooking tips. She was on!

With Robert Irvine

And now it’s up to us. Nicole has two formidable challengers in Lenny and Luca. So, here’s the deal: go to the Food Network Star website and vote, vote, vote. Yes, you can vote up to 10 times. But it has to be done before Wednesday, Aug. 6 at 11 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Do it! Let’s see one of our beloved APPCA members showcased on the Food Network with her own show!

What’s your culinary perspective? What dishes do you love to brag about?

Not an APPCA member? Now’s the perfect time to join! Go to personalchef.com to learn about all the benefits that come with membership.

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Caron Golden

About 

Founder of premier organization of personal chefs inspires students to follow their dreams of culinary entrepreneurship.

Candy Wallace, executive director of the American Personal & Private Chef Association (APPCA), today was recognized by Sullivan University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies as its 33rd Distinguished Guest Chef.

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