Meet the chef who says he is 'the brains' behind Kristin Cavallari's new cookbook
CHICAGO - Elmhurst, Illinois-based chef Mike Kubiesa, who collaborated with Kristin Cavallari on the new True Comfort cookbook, is ready to step aside and focus on his goal of becoming a celebrity TV chef.
Kubiesa said he met former Bear quarterback Jay Cutler while cooking for players and coaches at Halas Hall in Lake Forest in 2015. Cutler offered him a job as his family's head chef. He said he fed the Cutler Cavallari clan - which includes children Camden, Jaxon and Saylor - until last year.
The 29-year-old head chef said he now cooks for bull striker Otto Porter Jr., but also works on dinner parties and advises clients. Cutler and Cavallari separated in April after nearly seven years of marriage. The following month came the end of "Very Cavallari," a television show that followed Cavallari as she expanded her Nashville-based lifestyle brand, Uncommon James, and opened a store in Chicago.
Cavallari recently talked about their divorce - "I've really thought about it every day for over two years" - while promoting "True Comfort," a collection of over 100 gluten-free and refined sugar-free recipes late last month. Kubiesa wishes he were part of Cavallari's press tour for "True Comfort" and "True Roots", her 2018 best-selling cookbook. He wrote part of the introduction to “True Comfort” and said in the book about some of the recipes, but said he wanted “more greetings or just to acknowledge that I am actually a professional cook who has the mind to make these (recipes) to put. on paper."
"I just wish some things had gone differently, but I'm very grateful," said Kubiesa, a graduate of York Community High School who studied radio and television at St. Ambrose University in Iowa and culinary arts at Kendall College Chicago. "I am ready to show my talents and to show what I can actually do."
Cavallari's publisher and publicist did not return requests from the Tribune for comment. The following interview with Kubiesa has been edited for the sake of clarity and condensed for reasons of space.
Question: What role did you play in creating "True Comfort"?
A. "True Roots" is actually our first book. All of the recipes in each book are basically what I would cook for them as a family. And (Cavallari) said: Hey, these recipes are great. Do you mind if we turn it into a cookbook? Sure, I did it. I would say a lot of these recipes are home cooked food that I would make for the family with a healthy twist. She liked her a lot, so we turned her into book one and now into book two. Book two is more comfortable eating. I would say I was like the undercover chef and the head behind the book.
Question: How many of the recipes did she make up compared to the recipes you made up?
A. These are all my personal recipes that we made for you and your family. We went through each recipe together, but I would say most of them are things I've done in the past that I've only raised or made harmful to health for the book.
Question: Do they really eat like that all the time? It's gluten free, it's not white sugar. Is someone really eating that clean?
A. I would say they do most of the time. But yeah, I mean, it's difficult for a family with three young children to eat like this 100% of the time, but I'd say they eat like this at least 70 to 80% of the time, especially when I've been with you. I cooked like this every day, all day. When I worked in Tennessee (where the family lives) I would do 14 days in a row, come back to Chicago for six days, and be with my wife. I went straight back down to the farm and cooked like this every day, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Q. Was it a heavy sale for your kids? Some of the recipes may not be easy for children to understand.
A. Many of the high-end products and many vegetables were difficult to eat for any child. They were pretty good with a lot of them, but I made some of these recipes for the kids as well. There were times when I (the parents) would prepare their meals and make the kids special, but I would still keep that healthy quality. No white flour, no white sugar, but I'd dress it up. I would make oatmeal crusted chicken fingers, things that kids still like. I would do goat yogurt ranch, healthwise. Lots of coconut creams too. So they were pretty good eaters for kids, that's what I say.
Question: You were also on "Very Cavallari".
A. I was in season 2, maybe three episodes. I made sausages with Jay. Me and Jay went to a butcher shop. I was the cook who was supposed to do this to him. That failed because a lot of things have happened in her life lately. So that fell through and I went to the Christmas dinner special.
Q. So Cuts, his butcher shop, isn't going to happen?
A. I'm not going to say it won't happen. Right now it's on the backbone so I can't give you a straight answer on that.
Question: "Are you sad to see that the show has been canceled?"
A. Not really personally. I feel like where they were in their life it was a burden so I'm not too sad that it ended. It was fun while it lasted, but I didn't really see it stretching too far beyond three seasons to be completely transparent.
Q. Did you get any fame while on the show?
A. Yes and no. Like I said, I'm kind of an undiscovered chef. They kind of kept me on my back, and now I'm sitting out there more. I'm done being second fiddle so I haven't really marketed myself that way yet, but I think I'm going to start right now. I didn't have that many talking parts.
Question: Do you have plans for other cookbooks with Kristin or for your own cookbooks?
A. I'm planning a cookbook myself. I worked on that. It's a process, but I already have around 150 recipes in the works that are my own, the real recipes for everyday people.
Q. You obviously stay in touch with Kristin. Do you still keep in touch with Jay? Was there an argument about you in the split?
A. I actually left before it all went down, not because of that, but I was in a different place in my life. My wife was home in Chicago, and it was a struggle for me to travel back and forth as much as I did. We tried to have a baby. I'm still in touch with each of them. Me and Jay are friends. He's an undercover foodie. He likes to cook a lot. He likes to smoke meat. He likes to make sausages, so he and me do it together on the side. I taught him how to cook a lot of meat.
I am still in contact with Kristin. As for the books, I don't know if we'll have (another). If she comes to me with an offer, we'd talk about it later, but we haven't talked about that yet. I'm a little undercover so I wish I had a few shoutouts or a little more prominence in these books because a lot of people don't really know about me and I worked hard on this book. It took us about a year and a half.
Question: How much effort is there in these books?
A. I would go to Tennessee for 14 days. I would have prepared my entire menu, all of my recipes. I would cook all of these meals for them as a family. You would fix it. She would say: Oh, I like that. Can we do it like that? I would revise it and come back. We tested them a few times. We tested each recipe three or four times before actually sending it to the publisher. So it will take some time. And especially if you are working with gluten-free flours, it is difficult to find something on the first try. For example the chicken pot pie with the oat crust. It took us maybe five or six tries to get rid of this crust because it's falling apart and all you really have to do is work with it. I would say this book was harder to perfect. We definitely made a few tries with lots of recipes.
Question: Is there a favorite recipe of yours in the book?
A. I have a cauliflower tartine in here, and “tartine” is a French word for “open faced sandwich”. So I take a cauliflower steak, fry it, and build the avocado with smoked salmon. I have a cashew crema on top that you eat with a fork and knife which are really good. The short ribs braised with red wine are really good. The Shakshuka, a Middle Eastern style egg and tomato dish. The pumpkin carbonara. The apple butter and lamb chops are really good. Here are all great recipes. The pizza frittata is really good. I'm looking at it now. It's hard to choose. Now that I remember doing all of this, I think man I forgot about this recipe. The roasted eggplant with the almond puree is really good.
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