For seven months, the team at Footers Catering in Denver introduced their Executive Sous Chef, Heather Carr, to clients as a contestant on an upcoming episode of Chopped, the popular Food Network show, not knowing if she had won or not. Even on the day of the viewing party that Footers threw for friends, family and clients, no one, except Carr, knew what the outcome would be.
That wasn’t really a surprise to anyone as we all know somewhat how reality TV works these days with their iron-clad non-disclosure agreements and months between the final shows and when they air. Footers owners, Anthony and April Lambatos and the team were happily surprised when Carr won. But there were also some unexpected elements in store for Carr.
“I was surprised watching it how much I didn’t remember doing,” she said the day after the show aired. “The camera lights were hot and I was in the zone.”
She might not remember the ingredients or her techniques, but her focus during the cooking was laser sharp. “I focused on my own work, not on the competition,” she recalled. “I was hard on myself each round.” That’s the attitude it takes to win. However, at the end of the day, it’s about winning the long game for Carr.
“Winning Chopped is a career highlight for sure, but it was a cooking competition,” she said. “It’s just one day in many, and it’s about the luck of what you are given. It’s not everything about who I am. To me, speaking at Catersource, being an ICAEF scholarship winner – twice now – and mentoring other chefs is of more value.”
And that’s what it is about the 25-year-old that has made her a winner in the catering industry.
Carr is someone who takes advantage of every opportunity that comes her way, and is sure enough to be herself in every situation – her shaved hairstyle and tattoo sleeve of vegetables — tells you that even before you talk to her.
She began cooking in college. As a lacrosse player at University of New Hampshire (where she is from) her practice schedule kept her from working. So she made a deal with her roommates that if they bought the groceries, she’d cook. Laughing, she recalled, “I was pretty bad at first. I got better and never stopped. I’ve been cooking professionally for the entire six years since.”
After attending Johnson & Wales in Denver, she moved to Los Angeles for a year. While there she worked for a boutique catering firm and won her first ICAEF Scholarship. This enabled her to attend Catersource where she heard great things about Footers. Wanting to return to Denver, she set her sights on working for them, which of course she did. Once again, she won the ICAEF Scholarship (applicants are allowed to enter and win a maximum of two times).
This time around she was mentored by Keith Lord, Executive Chef of Wild Thyme in San Diego, and this year’s winner of ICA’s Chef of the Year Award at the ICA CATIE Awards during Catersource. “He really opened doors for me,” Carr said. “We clicked on how we approach food.”
Eight months later they presented together at the Art of Catering Food in Washington, D.C. on upcycling, the art of reusing discarded food product to create a dish or sauce of the same, if not better, quality than the original.
This year at Catersource, they presented together yet again. Next time around, Carr is ready to go it alone. As someone who learned cooking to pay her rent, Carr wants others who enter the field to understand the foundation of the cooking process and how something as simple as emulsification of a vinaigrette, for instance, translates to many other cooking techniques. “I want to mentor others and teach them all the things I wished I had learned when I began,” she said.
Her philosophy is to make something work, rather than make excuses of why it can’t. “I try to find success and meaning in what I’m doing now instead of thinking if it will be bad or good for my career. I won’t let anything stop me.” Obviously, this Carr is revved up and going places.
International Caterers Association Educational Foundation (ICAEF) www.icaef.org