Dan Williamson always knew there was a time limit on his career as a chef. 15 hours a day on your feet in a hot kitchen gets harder and harder as you age.
When he was young, he cooked because he had to.
He was the second-oldest of six kids, “And just one mother raising us all in the ’70s so money was always an issue in our family,” he says. “Because mom often had two, sometimes three jobs, there were many times when the kids sort of took over the kitchen and were in charge of getting dinner ready. What I started doing early was experimenting in my mom’s kitchen.”
Growing up in southern Ohio, he worked in kitchens to make some extra money. He furthered his cooking career in Cincinnati and France. Now, fourteen years after he left professional kitchens, he’s working in the insurance industry and passing on his love of food to his 11-year-old daughter Kate.
Dan realized Kate was interested in cooking when she was very young. “One her favorite movies was The Princess and The Frog, and of course it’s set on the bayou and there was gumbo,” he says. “(Cajun food) has always been one of my favorites, so she was kind of drawn to that.” Kate asked her dad if they could make the dish she saw Tiana making in the music.
Today, she helps him shred zucchini and stuff mushrooms.
When Dan and his wife decided to have kids, he left cooking. “That’s one of the things I didn’t want to be was absent from their lives, especially growing up, so I chose to give it up and find another career.”
He sometimes yearns for the hustle-bustle life in a professional kitchen, but he knows he made the right choice fourteen years ago.
“I was thinking about it the other day that my daughter’s only eight years away from being out of the house and in college,” he says. “It’s all gone by really so quickly that I’m just really thankful that I’ve been afforded the opportunity to be there and see all this.”
More: Dan Williamson is on the board of directors the Community Kitchen of Monroe County. He will also be a guest chef at the Kitchen’s Winter Brunch fundraiser, where guests will have the chance to taste his stuffed mushrooms and zucchini hash. Listen to Dan and Kate cook up these stuffed mushrooms and zucchini hash.
- 1 can fire-roasted tomatoes (or 6-8 fresh tomatoes)
- 2 shallots, diced
- 1 garlic clove, diced
- 15 button mushrooms
- 6 shiitakes, mushrooms
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 3 whole basil leaves
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- cracked black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated onion
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
- 1/2 cup bread crumbs
- pinch of thyme
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1 egg
- 2 medium zucchini, shredded
- 1/2 onion, diced
- 3 tablespoons butter (in hot pan to cook hash)
- salt and pepper to taste
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- In a hot pan, add olive oil, one diced shallots and garlic. Cook until translucent. Then add tomatoes and red wine. Toss in whole basil leaves and the sprig of rosemary. Add 1/4 teaspoon each granulated onion and garlic. Reduce to a simmer.
- Meanwhile, to prepare the mushrooms, clean and remove stems. Dice stems. Set caps aside.
- For the stuffing, heat 4 tablespoons butter in an oven-safe pan. Cook diced shiitakes, mushroom stems, the other diced shallot and half the diced red pepper until soft. While the mixture cooks, mix together in a bowl breadcrumbs, parmesan cheese, thyme, red pepper flakes and 1/4 teaspoon each of granulated onion and garlic. Allow mushrooms and veggies to cool, then combine with breadcrumb mixture. Crack the egg into the stuffing and fold together. Mound the stuffing into the mushroom caps. Placed stuffed mushrooms back in the oven-safe pan (hopefully there's still a good amount of butter in the pan) and cook in the oven for 15 minutes.
- Back to the tomato coulis, remove basil and rosemary. Then use an immersion blender to mix. Pour the tomato sauce into a sieve and mash it down to separate the solids from the good coulis juice.
- For the zucchini hash, shred zucchini. Combine with 1/2 diced onion and the other half of the diced red pepper. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add 3 tablespoons butter to a hot pan. Spread zucchini mixture in the hot pan. Cook until brown and crispy, then flip zucchini and peppers to cook the other side.
- Before serving, sprinkle a bit more shredded parmesan cheese on the mushrooms.