Growing up in Glastonbury, Connecticut, Grace Vallo vividly remembers picking ripe vegetables from a nearby farm or finding the freshest lobster at the pound with her father.
Capturing the essence of New England cuisine became Vallo’s lifelong journey and led to his career as a chef and food blogger.
His culinary know-how continues to bear fruit. Vallo, 27, who now lives in Salem, was recently recognized in the nationwide video competition Create Cooking Challenge: My Family’s Recipe, sponsored by American Public Television (APT). The Create Channel is a lifestyle channel produced and distributed by APT that airs on public television channels in 249 markets.
Vallo’s recipe, “Lobster Puff Pastry Tart (‘Adult’ Lobster Roll)”, won him ninth place out of about 100 competitors.
According to a press release, original recipes from more than 30 different regions of the United States were recognized, with more than 25 countries and cultural traditions represented. The winner was selected to host a web series for Create.
During Vallo’s video audition, she described herself as a “self-taught home chef, full-time food blogger, born and raised in New England”, who is always on the hunt for the “heirloom tomato perfect ugly”.
While the traditional New England lobster roll is often served in a buttered and grilled hot dog bun, Vallo uses puff pastry as “an elevated twist,” to add complexity and give the delicacy a makeover. subtle.
“It’s a little more forgiving, it’s a little more sophisticated. All it takes is a lobster roll to take it to the next level,” she says.
Vallo says cooks can either boil fresh lobster or use frozen, pre-cooked lobster meat, heated in a skillet with butter and fresh chives. After the puff pastry is cooked, pieces of lobster and leeks are placed on top.
“Then I just add a bit of fresh lemon zest just to make it a little less rich and indulgent. It looks fancy, but it’s really simple and good.
She calls the recipe “the essence” of her brand: creating dishes with seasonal ingredients, something she’s been doing since she was young.
“Lobster is quintessential New England,” she says.
take after dad
Vallo has “great memories” of going to City Fish Market in Glastonbury for “the freshest seafood possible”. These days, Vallo goes to Shyer’s Lobster Pound in Salem.
“They do such a good job, it’s so fresh. They are also great people,” she adds.
Vallo says his father’s influence first inspired his budding skills.
“My dad was kind of the head of the house. I was always his little sous chef, watching him cook, but also helping him cook dinner too,” she says.
Her recipes often depict her experience of cooking Sunday dinner with her father. Finding fresh, seasonal food to cook at home was a big part of these meals – for example, making an apple salad with the fruits in season.
“If we found the perfect heirloom tomatoes at the end of the summer, we would make a dish of them together,” she says.
Although college initially steered her towards a career in business, it was not her passion.
“It paid the bills, but I didn’t like what I was doing,” she says.
About five or six years ago, she started documenting her family’s recipes on her food blog, hellograce.com. Eventually, she started making her own.
“I just started coming up with all these crazy recipes,” she says.
Two years ago, she started cooking full time.
Her website bio lists recipes by season: making strawberry muffins with native berries in the spring; make a panzanella salad with heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn, Anaheim peppers and pickled cucumbers in the summer; create “Brown-Butter Peach Cobbler” or “Pumpkin Carbonara With Crispy Sage” in the fall; and cook seared tenderloin steak with a “5-ingredient wine sauce” when the weather turns cold.
Vallo also favors other New England vegetables like carrots, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, rutabagas and turnips.
“In the summer, I love to make grilled meats or homemade popsicles. In the winter, I love making a hot bowl of pasta or stewed meats,” says Vallo.
Between her blog, YouTube channel, social media accounts, and recognition with the Create contest, she’s seen an upward trend in her success.
“It’s amazing what you can do when you have the time and the ability to do it,” says Vallo.
“It’s something I wake up thinking about, go to bed thinking about. It’s my baby, for sure,” she adds.
Besides her father, she also credits French chef Jacques Pepin, who infuses her cooking with New England influences, and Ree Drummond, who hosts Food Network’s “Pioneer Woman” show, as inspirations.
“She’s always been my inspiration for what I’m trying to go for in my career. She started with a food blog and obviously now is a very successful businesswoman, not just a chef but a businesswoman. And she always maintained that level of humility, and she really didn’t forget her roots.
The Create Cooking Challenge was judged by a panel of public television chefs: New Orleans chef Kevin Belton, Mexican chef Pati Jinich, Greek-American chef Diane Kochilas, Chinese chef Martin Yan and Italian chef -American Nick Stellino. The celebrity judges based their decisions on the participants’ culinary knowledge, presentation, ideas and other factors.
Yan thought Vallo “engaged the audience, was very personal and lively, and had a good presence on camera”, while Stellino said Vallo was “camera ready”, according to APT Communications’ Jamie Haines.
“He thought she sold him well,” Haines said.
“We all loved Grace’s recipe and presentation,” adds Haines.
Vallo was “excited and flattered” by the recognition.
“Obviously I’m going against a group of really, really talented chefs. Just having that recognition is really, really awesome. And I just felt very thankful and thankful.
Vallo says landing a spot on Create TV would be a dream come true.
“I would love it if the opportunity arose. Obviously they would want to have me too. But I would love it, yes, of course,” she says.
Vallo’s dream home would include space for a garden to grow his own heirloom tomatoes.
Her recipe blog is at TastefullyGrace.com; she is also on Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and her YouTube channel, @Tastefully Grace.