Book Report

'Out of the Frying Pan: A Chef's Memoir of Hot Kitchens, Single Motherhood, and the Family Meal'

By Bonnie S. Benwick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 26, 2007

So here's the scoop, with lettuce, tomato and a slice of red onion: When chef Gillian Clark's memoir hits bookstores Oct. 16, the recipe for her famous burger will be revealed to all.

[See Recipes: Magalee's Favorite Cornflake-Crusted Pork Chops, Stomach Bliss Meatloaf and The Burger]

In fact, it's one of 45 recipes that punctuate "Out of the Frying Pan: A Chef's Memoir of Hot Kitchens, Single Motherhood, and the Family Meal" (Thomas Dunne Books), a project that began as a story about her two daughters and took three years of summer vacations, staying up late and note-taking between orders to complete.

"It turned out to be a story of personal survival, in that if you think you can do something, chances are you probably can," she told us last week, just before a weeknight dinner rush at her Colorado Kitchen in Brightwood. She looks proud on the book cover, with a relaxed toque and a wide smile.

In the span of 12 years, Clark, 47, managed to extricate herself from a bad marriage and an unsatisfying job track, then make the necessary career moves that she says brought her to "hopefully a positive outcome."

Sounds like an understatement. Her girls, now in high school and college, are a big part of the picture, as they grew up in and around the places where Clark cooked. When Sian, the younger one, was 5, "she was in the kitchens, making pots of tea," Clark remembers. "She couldn't see over the kitchen window here when we opened in 2001." Magalee, who started at Oberlin College this fall, bused Colorado Kitchen tables this past summer.

"Frying Pan" is an easy, inspirational read -- Oprah alert! -- with references the Washington audience will know: L'Academie de Cuisine, the Morrison-Clark Inn, Cashion's Eat Place, the Evening Star Cafe, Breadline, Mrs. Simpson's and Hogate's among them. It is no surprise that Clark's climb was difficult in dozens of ways and, at times, gave her the chance to do and say regrettable things.

But back to those recipes for her cornflake-crusted pork chops, her mushroom-pearl onion ragout and the burger that helped launch her starship "in the middle of nowhere," she says, with its diced onion and roasted garlic puree blended in. "The beauty of that burger is the caramelization of the outside," Clark told us. "I come pretty close to burning it, with my 32,000 BTUs."

Now her fans can give it their own best shot at home -- while they, and the chef, head for the next chapter.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company