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Kennett Square Cook Finishes First on Food Network Show

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A self-taught cook, Lisa Keys of Kennett Square has been entering and winning cooking contests since 1990. Perhaps she was
preparing for her first-place finish on the Mother’s Day edition of the Food Network’s Chopped competition this past May. For Keys, the win was an opportunity to celebrate the life of her 22-year-old son, William, who died suddenly in 2011. She has since launched the Good Grief Cook blog, sharing recipes and her thoughts on “life, love and the healing power of food.”

MLT: How did you prepare for Chopped?

LK: My daughter, Caitlin, and her husband brought me Chopped baskets. Before coming to visit, they’d stop at Whole Foods and buy me ingredients. They’d time me, like they do on the show. It was very helpful, I have to say, because it [addressed] that timing thing. I actually felt the Chopped ingredients were easier than the ingredients they brought me.

MLT: How long did the taping in New York last?

LK: We started at 6:30 in the morning, and because I went to the end [of the competition], I finished at about 9:30 p.m. I found the whole thing exhilarating. I would definitely do it again.

MLT: Your judges were celebrity chefs Aarón Sánchez, Alex Guarnaschelli and Chris Santos. Were they tough on you?

LK: They were all really great-—so nice and so complimentary. Even when I had my little flaws, they were so encouraging. You don’t see a lot of what they said because a lot of it gets edited out.

MLT: Did any of the ingredients in the baskets stump you?

LK: The plantains threw me. I’d never worked with green plantains. I had no idea how to get the peel off. And I didn’t know plantains are poisonous if you don’t fully cook them.

MLT: What went through your mind when you saw the ingredients you had to work with?

LK: For me, food is all about balance. When I looked at those ingredients, I thought, ‘OK, which is the salty, which is the sweet, which is the crunchy, which is the creamy?’ It doesn’t really matter what they taste like-—just that they’re salty or crunchy. Then you know what to do with those kinds of things. So I didn’t look at it as sweet rice cereal; I looked at it as something crunchy. And, yes, I knew it was very sweet, so I knew I had to temper that. I just used a little bit of the cereal and a lot of panko [on the fish]. 

MLT: Did you find it difficult to make up a recipe on the spot?

LK: No. I don’t usually cook anything from a cookbook. I found that either the recipes weren’t well tested or my oven is different than [that of] whoever created this recipe. You have to really learn how to adjust and tweak to your liking.

MLT: Why did you start writing your Good Grief Cook blog?

LK: I thought about doing a blog for a long time, but I just wasn’t ready, I guess. My whole life mostly has been very private. [The blog] is about me not wanting to forget William. After doing Chopped, it was a huge part of my grief journey. I think part of getting through it is trying to figure out ways to celebrate your kid. 

Visit www.goodgriefcook.com.