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The Joy of Cooking with Chef Dennis Littley

George Grombacher June 15, 2022

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The Joy of Cooking with Chef Dennis Littley

LifeBlood: We talked about finding the joy of cooking, four keys to becoming a good cook, the hidden benefits of food preparation, and how to get started with Chef Dennis Littley, Owner of Ask Chef Dennis.  

Listen to learn why cooking foods you like to eat can unlock your passion!

You can learn more about Dennis at and LinkedIn.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher


Chef Dennis Littley

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:00
Come on I’m left with this is George G. And the time is right. welcome today’s guest strong and powerful chef Dennis lately. Dennis, are you ready to do this?

Chef Dennis Littley 0:18
I’m ready. Let’s do it. George.

george grombacher 0:20
Let’s go. Chef Dennis is the owner of ask Chef Dennis productions. He’s a food blogger, a content creator and entrepreneur. He’s working to share recipes and cooking tips to make people more comfortable in the kitchen. Dennis, tell us a little about your personal lives more about your work and why you do what you do.

Unknown Speaker 0:38
Well, I’ve been a chef for the better part of my life. I started when I was cooking when I was 12, actually professionally in a hamburger place. And it just progressed from there. And of course, I love to eat. So that did not. I was inspired early on by an early Chef TV chef named Graham occur. And he would bring people down from the audience. And they would actually moan when they ate his food. And it was like that was resonated with me, it stuck with me. And I was like, Oh my God. Of course, you know, I did the typical jack of all trades moving around until I finally ended up back in the kitchen. And once I was in there, it’s stuck. And that’s where I was. And I progressed on to business dining where I was feeding executives. And then the last job I took was at an all girls Catholic High School. And I went there basically because I worked 165 days a year, when the principal said that was already to say no, when the principal said that I went when would you like to start stuff that that was the killer, but it turned out to be the best thing for me because it kind of reinvigorated my passion for cooking because you wouldn’t think that cooking for high school girls would be appreciated, but they love to eat. And they went from eating nothing but crap. Chicken fingers and french fries. To me making them chicken marsala sushi. Doing a roasted vegetables on the salad bar grains. I mean, visiting, people would come in and go, Oh my God, you eat like this every day. And it’s like, yeah, we do so. And then I started a culinary program at the school. And that’s really when things started to change for me. I got tired of hiring temps. And I said, Let me train my own staff. You know, these girls are like sponges. So I started that. And there was just at that point, it even become even more magical. And the girls were great. They loved it. They were learning they were helping. The school thought it was the best thing going. People were donating money to the culinary program. It received a point of excellence when the school got reevaluated there were two, one for the robotics team, which was nationally acclaimed. And my culinary team. It was it was pretty awesome at that point. So yeah, but then through a series of injuries, it was basically time for me to retire. My body was broken. And but when I started the culinary team, that’s when I started to blog. That’s what kind of led into where we are today. Excuse me. That kind of lead to work. Yeah, I

george grombacher 3:23
think that that is that’s awesome. And you started the blog in 2009. Yes. And it’s wildly successful gets at, I think early on 9 million visitors a year, probably more than that now. So that’s, that’s a wild smashing success. Bye bye blog standard, certainly and tell you so the impact has been incredible.

Unknown Speaker 3:44
It is it was not, you know, you always have these visions of things being you being being the next best thing, you know, and but in truth, you know, it was I was always thinking, well, if I can just be a little accessible, if I can make an extra $1,000 a month off of this job, you know, we’ll be okay. And now. Like if I did that, I would like oh my god. I would not be very happy person. But there’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. People think you know, I wish I could do what you do. You know, especially when it came to the travel portion of it. They don’t understand that there are that I work eight to 10 hours a day. Every day. You know, I’ll take a day off whenever I feel like it but weekends, you know, unless I have something planned. It’s it’s this is my job and it’s my passion. I love doing it. And as long as I love doing it, it’s not a job. It’s it’s something that I just enjoy doing.

george grombacher 4:48
Yeah, well, certainly kudos to that. It’s been a it’s been an awesome career so far. What is it about about about I don’t want to Call it is it cooking? What went when? When when you started the culinary team? What? What is it about that that made it so successful that and what is it about the blog? What is

Unknown Speaker 5:12
it about food? Well, food is the bond that joins all of us food, no matter what language you speak, or who you are or where you come from. When you can sit down with with a plate of food, and enjoy it together, you automatically become bonded with each other. I mean, it’s, we’d be in a different country. And just because we could point out and gotten good, and everybody else was enjoying it, and they’d say, what it wasn’t their language, I’d say what it wasn’t ours, and pretty soon you’re communicating with people you would have never met or would have never been able to talk to. And you know, not just foreign language, but just other people. You sit down at a table I remember we were in Charleston, and they sat us said, Would you mind a common table? Well, we sat down with an old southern lawyer, and let me tell you like Andy Griffith, the white suit, the seersucker suit, and he started telling us stories. And it was like, oh my god, this is amazing. So food does that, you know, even go into a bar, people are a little guarded. But when food food kind of opens things up. So the I think what’s successful, because that bond with food is kind of magical. And when I started with girls while here 60 Girls signed up the first year, but the only ones that could fit it into their schedule were freshmen. Because all the rest all the girls went to college, they all had so much on their plate that they couldn’t add one more thing, even though they really wanted to. And actually, when they found out there was work involved, like they didn’t just come in and eat, which a lot of them thought they were gonna do. They had, they had to cut vegetables, they had to clean parents, they had to do actual labor. And the girls that stayed with me that year, you know, they would eat, of course, reap the benefits, but they were actually learning. And I wasn’t trying to create little chips, I was trying to teach them that it’s not. And my favorite saying was always it’s not rocket science. This is food. And it’s learning to create things easily. So you can feed your friends, your family. That’s what it’s about. So you don’t have to rely on going out to eat all the time, or getting takeout or microwaving. I used to have a tagline on my first blog, it was yes, Virginia, there is more to life than take out of the microwave. But that’s that’s where it went. So my blog kind of follows that philosophy. When I was a chef, I was like, Oh, you’re not getting the recipe. You know, you’ll eat it the way I make it or you don’t get it kind of Chef, the old no soup for you. And my wife says I became the kinder, gentler chef Dennis after I started the school and started a culinary team. And it was like no, this is how you do it. If you don’t like this and that let’s put this in instead. So that has transferred over to my blog. The only style I really know how to cook is restaurant style. I’ve been doing it all my life. So I all my recipes are basically geared that way, in restaurant style, honestly, unless it’s something we have to prepare ahead of time to get a sauced on or to get something set up 10 to 20 minutes is how long it’s going to take to cook your dinner. Because you do not have time. You know, we gotta get you in, get you fed get you out. So we can turn that table make more money. So that’s how I teach people to cook at home. Because you don’t have time, I don’t have time. At the end of the day. I’m tired. I don’t want to spend all day cooking. So it should be easy, but it should be pleasurable, because it should be cooking with food that you’d like to eat. And that’s the big secret to demystifying cooking is that you know recipes were not passed down from the mountain on on tablets of stone their guides

Unknown Speaker 9:09
you know I always tell people you know if you can try it the way I wrote it the first time but if there’s something you don’t like and like if you don’t like broccoli, leave the broccoli I’ll put asparagus and put you know spinach and put something else and if I’ve made it with chicken, but you want to try it with beef, we’ll fine try it with beef. That’s okay. We’re trying and if I made it with pork and you want to try it with chicken, try it with chicken that’s okay. A lot of things are easily substituted. And once you start to learn that it’s okay to substitute things and it’s okay to use ingredients you enjoy eating. Then it’s a matter of when you shop. you shop for the freshest ingredients available. You shop like we shop for produce. That’s in season like last night we had broccolini they had it at the store and I don’t see that that offense. So whenever I see it, I buy it. But I mean, I’ll buy Oh, look, this, this produce looks really good. These green beans look really good. They’re in season now. whatever’s in season, this asparagus is beautiful. I buy it without any idea of what I’m going to do with it until I open the refrigerator that night to see what I’m going to make for dinner. And then I start putting things together. You know, I always have stock ingredients. I buy mushrooms all the time, because I love mushrooms. My wife loves mushrooms. And, and besides adding that earthy flavor, they add volume. So sometimes you want to include things that add volume to a dinner so you’re not hungry. At the end of the dinner, you know, you’re full, but you’re not eating such massive amounts of protein. As Americans we weigh too much protein we do is just you know, it’s more is always better. I in the restaurant, I used to serve a 24 ounce porterhouse steak, and I’m like, no one should ever eat that much meat. But you did it because you could you know, we’re Americans, we’re Americans, you know, it’s right. But you know, it’s just getting back to that philosophy of learning to use what you have learning what’s what’s in season and enjoying the process and making foods that you like, if I’ll make something with a certain spice, but you know, my wife hates caffeine. And I have to leave that out. But if it’s in my recipe, you don’t like it either. We’ll leave it out. But something else that you know if I made it with lemon pepper, but you hate lemon pepper, why but you like agencies and the news agencies, you know, it’s it’s all a matter of adjusting like I love when I get messages, comments from readers, and they say, I tried your recipe, but you know, I don’t like this. And I don’t like this. So I did this. And then I added this to it. And it was amazing. Wow. Congratulations, you. You did exactly what I wanted you to do. What? I’ve liked you to make it exactly yeah, I would. But you took it a step further. And you made it your own. So you’re really happy with the dish. Love it.

george grombacher 12:01
That’s super powerful. I’m always trying to get down to first principles of things and sounds like eating making food that you like to eat is one of those. It’s okay to substitute get the freshest ingredients, you can really enjoy the process.

Unknown Speaker 12:18
Yeah, that’s it. And you know, what happens is alright, say you dread cooking, you know that a lot of people do because they just don’t make dinner that they enjoy every night. So once you get past that first couple of steps, and you, you sit down and you go, this is really good. Like sometimes I surprise myself. And when I surprise myself, it’s wild, like I did not. I’ll make something for the first time. I did not expect this to be this good. You know, I want I know it’d be good, but not as good. I had my first tuna casserole of my life. A month ago, somebody hired me to make something with tuna. And the way I made it was not your typical tuna casserole. And I was like, oh my god, this is amazing. Or you my wife said that. But once you realize that you’re creating food that tastes good. You’re kind of anxious to get back into the kitchen again. Now, the next night you go, it’s not a chore, it’s not as much because I like what I made. Let’s see what else I can do. And you know you’re gonna have pitfalls, not everything is gonna knock it out of the park. My wife I know when it wasn’t a success as she’ll just be moving food around her plate she wants to eat. She reverts to her six year old self. Where does she go? What’s the matter? He has nothing. Oh, tell me what’s wrong with that. You know, so not everything is going to be a huge success. But as you learn more things will be and then what happens is as you’re enjoying your time in the kitchen, working with your significant other helping you make food or maybe you have the kids helping you cut vegetables, teaching them life skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives. And that’s basically what my culinary program teaching these young girls life skills that we just don’t learn anymore. It becomes a happier time and when you get someone invested in helping you making food, they have more of a tendency to want to at least try it and enjoy it because they helped. So once you get this process rolling time in the kitchen becomes more of a special again, bonding over food whether it’s again just your your significant other or your kids or friends coming over to make food you have the cabin come over for the big game and you’re going to drink and eat well let’s get him in the kitchen and have some fun before you know calm everybody down and have them helping you make something before you get started. And it just it becomes more special, and then you look forward to that time in the kitchen. And the more you look forward to it, the better the food’s gonna be. I always tell people, if you own a restaurant, and all the servers aren’t happy, that means the chef is not happy. And at the chef is not happy dinners, probably not going to be as good as it could be. Because a lot of it comes with attitude and how you feel about things. And you know, you talk about putting love into food, it’s the truth. If you’re really feeling good about things, the food’s gonna taste better, it’s gonna look better.

george grombacher 15:36
Lots of really good stuff there. Dennis, I love Thank you. And you know, when we do get better at something, we we enjoy it more like that is an absolute universal thing. And the life skills do teach, it’s so true that we support what we help to create and 100% Why wouldn’t food be any different and stead of just serving food when you’re having guests over? Let’s, let’s let’s put them to work. And I think you’ll probably end up having a better time than then then maybe you’ve ever had so, so much value that goes into it? Is it what is what is kind of that gateway? If I am intimidated by turning the stove on, or whatever it is, how how do you get people to take that first step?

Unknown Speaker 16:24
Well, it’s finding a recipe again, that does not have a lot of ingredients in it. Okay, and it’s finding a recipe that maybe you really enjoy eating like maybe you order something out like something very simple. Is Fettuccine Alfredo. Say maybe you only order that when you go out to the restaurant or chicken parmesan. You know, something that’s simple. I used to gauge for Thai restaurants on how good their chicken Parmesan is. Because if they get that really good, then I know they have some skills, sometimes they just slap it together. And the rest if they can’t do a simple dish correctly, or not going to go a complex dish correctly, sir. So it’s taking a simple dish like that, that maybe it’s your favorite food, or you just go back to chicken parmesan and seeing the process of how it’s made. Okay, wow, I did not know that you pound chicken before you bred it. When you do that, so it’s easier to eat. It’s a little tender. It’s not as thick if you don’t have a meat ham, or maybe you slice the portions that are so and I explain this in my blog. So you find a recipe that has few ingredients that you really liked to eat, and maybe has the step by step pictures. Like that’s really the big thing now so you can follow it or a video so you can follow it. So now I say okay, I did not know that you have flour the chicken before you put it in the egg and it’s not just a gets egg with a little water or milk in it. Oh, that’s starting to make sense. Okay, now I bred it. And then little secrets little tips. Like you know, putting enough sauce under it putting it on the one of the cardinal sins is they don’t put enough sauce. So they bought off cheese on as like it’s a Pizza Chicken. You know, it looks horrible. And it’s not going to taste good. So, you know, okay, put this on, you put this on. And then when I put the cheese on it, oh look, he put some chopped parsley before he put it in the oven because the parsley melts into the cheese. And it makes it look pretty. You know, we eat with our eyes first. Before we taste it, we smell it, we look at it, and then we taste it. So if everything’s blended together, so you look for a recipe of something you really liked to make or like to eat. That isn’t complicated. And then you try it and when you sit down and you eat it and you go wow, I did this, you know. And then along the way you’d pick up more little tips and tricks like what’s chicken parm? I hate breading. So when I do it, I do a lot of it. And then I’ll freeze it and then I have it excuse me, then I have a lot more dinners to make for nights that I don’t feel like cooking. You know, because we all had those nights I just don’t want to do it and instead of going out now you pull the chicken and maybe some spaghetti sauce out you know and I always tell people I love making my own sauce. If it’s not your thing and you don’t have time. There’s a lot of good jarred sauces out there. I’m not you know like I buy premade salad dressings just because I just don’t want to be bothered with making my own I can do it. I just don’t want to do so it’s all a matter about what you have time for and what you enjoy.

george grombacher 19:29
Love it will ship Dennis the people are ready for that difference making tip even though you’ve already given us a much What do you have for them?

Unknown Speaker 19:35
Well, I think the biggest I’m sorry. I think the biggest difference making tip again, and I’ve carved this already is the cook with food you like to eat. Okay, that’s that’s where your joy comes into the kitchen. You know, you can experiment all you want down the road. But when you’re first getting started when you first want to learn Do you want to experience that joy, that that bliss from eating something that you created it start with ingredients you like to eat source, good quality ingredients. You know, at the grocery store, we talked about fresh produce, find meats that are better quality. Remember, we don’t have to eat as much of that protein. So if you pay a little bit more for it, you can eat a smaller portion, if it’s a better quality. And that’ll make all the difference in what you cook.

george grombacher 20:32
Well, I think that that is great stuff that definitely gets a Come on. So Dennis, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? Where can they find the blog? How can they engage? Well, I

Unknown Speaker 20:41
am asked Chef And you can leave comments. All my recipes are there, there’s a search bar so you can look for what you want. And then across all social media, I’m asked chef Dennis, that’s really simple. And you can find me on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Twitter, and I want to tick tock I’m not very visible on tick tock, but we’re working on it. But yeah, I’m out there and I’m easily available. And I do answer my comments that people leave. So

george grombacher 21:14
love it. Well, if you enjoyed this as much as I did, so shift Dennis, your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, go to ask Chef and check out all the great recipes, find. Figure out which one you’re gonna get started with and then find him on social media. All over all of them at ask Chef Dennis as well. We’ll list all those in the notes of the show. Thanks good chef Dennis. Thank you for having me, George. And until next time, keep fighting the good fight. We’re all in this together.

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