Meet Chef Ali Banks. She's the Senior Manager of Operations at Pastoral Artisan Cheese, Bread & Wine in Chicago. Ali has been developing recipes for Sitka Salmon Shares members since 2013.
What is your earliest cooking memory?
I grew up in the kitchen. My earliest cooking tradition is my mom making breakfast for my brother and I before school—she made us what we wanted. My brother always wanted waffles and I liked French toast; she'd make two completely different breakfasts from scratch, no questions asked.
What got you into cooking?
Since my mother always cooked, I helped in the kitchen from a really young age. To make a long story short, I was a pastry assistant at a cooking school & restaurant during my senior year of high school, but was pretty set on being a doctor. I started college in the fall, changed my mind about medicine and ended up working in real estate development after school. I always loved food and decided to follow my passion so I moved to France for culinary school...
What are the three ingredients you couldn’t live without?
I go through phases, but olive oil, salt, and lemons are always staples.
What fish are you most excited to work with? Why?
King salmon? It’s so luxurious. And oily. And delicious. And special! Actually, I think spot prawns—I’d never had them before this past season and I can’t wait to eat them again this fall. You can’t really get them anywhere!
Do you have any chef idols?
I admire anyone that is passionate about being in the kitchen, but chefs in the "famous" sense? I'd say Alton Brown. As an instructor, I appreciate how he teaches the science behind what ends up on your plate.
If there’s one thing you definitely want our members to learn about cooking seafood, what would that be?
Don’t overcook it! You can always cook it more, but you can't cook it less.
What have you never eaten that you still want to try?
I don’t know, deep-water rockfish? Marsh keeps sayings it’s a lot like black cod; oily and delicious.
Advice for the budding home chefs among our members?
Use the best ingredients possible and be patient when you’re cooking—try not to fiddle with food in the pan or raise the heat to make dinner happen faster. And don’t overthink it—there’s nothing better than king salmon with salt, pepper, and olive oil. Simple and amazing.
What are you having for dinner today?
I’m actually testing for Salmon Shares! I’m going to have halibut with romesco sauce.
What is the meal you’re most proud of?
I try to be tough, but I'm pretty sentimental. Most of my favorite meals are tied to stories over the years. Shortly after I moved back home to New York, after culinary school in Paris, I was working in an amazing butcher shop in New York. My friends and I recreated an incredible steak experience—a favorite from Paris that I took notes on a tablecloth in French as I ate it, with beautiful local, sustainable meat from my old shop. It was delicious.