Chili Queen Really Cooks

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Teresa McQuerrey/Roundup

Norma Kemp

Fans of chili who have attended the Mazatzal Casino’s Annual Arizona State Chili Cook-off know Norma Kemp. And they love her chili — she has won the People’s Choice trophy for three years running and was runner-up the first year she competed.

She almost didn’t make the June 13 contest. “I’ve been ill for awhile and didn’t have the energy,” she said.

Her husband, Kevin, convinced her to do it just to have fun. But it took four different batches of chili — made the day before the event — to get the combination just right.

Kemp said she has a basic chili recipe, but each time she enters the cook-off she changes it slightly. It’s not a recipe she will share though.

“I don’t want to be competing against my own recipe in the future,” she said.

Chili isn’t Kemp’s only top-drawer recipe, and she is willing to share most of the others. A software engineer with General Dynamics for many years, she also has a personal chef business, Flavor With Flair.

About 10 years ago she was encouraged by friends and family to take her cooking to the professional level. She didn’t want to work for anyone else, so instead of going into a restaurant or catering service, she took the personal chef route.

“It’s what I want it to be,” Kemp said.

She trained at the United States Personal Chef Institute in the Valley, but the school is no longer there. Its parent organization, the U.S.P.C. Association, is based in New Mexico and she is still a premier member with it.

She started her business in 2003 and built a solid client list that she continued to serve after moving to Payson in 2005. But between commuting to work a few days a week and cooking for clients in the Valley on weekends, there were too many trips up and down the mountain, so she started weaning her clients off her services and no longer conducts her personal chef business there.

She has a few clients in the Rim Country, but with the economy still struggling, business is on the slow side. She keeps her hand in cooking with things like the chili cook-off, clients that are still active, an occasional catering job — such as a buffet for the Central Arizona Board of Realtors —and donating for charity fund-raising efforts.

When a prospective client contacts Kemp she will set aside several hours to an entire day to sit down with them and do an interview about what services she can provide, what they want in the way of meals and more. Following the interview, she will present the client with a proposed menu to review. Most clients typically purchase the “5-by-4” package, which is five meals (with a main dish and sides) for four people.

With menus for one (or two) weeks approved, Kemp purchases the groceries and then goes to the client’s home to make the meals, which are frozen and then served with minimal preparation.

She takes everything to the client: the ingredients, the pots and pans, containers for freezing the food with labels containing the reheating and finishing instructions, even the dish soap and linens for cleaning up.

“I used to take it in those big plastic tubs, but then I discovered those big tool chests on wheels,” she said.

Kemp cooks to not only the client’s tastes, but also can meet any special dietary requirements, including low-fat and low-carbohydrate meal plans. She has a database of about 5,000 recipes and she’s always adding to it. She said clients won’t see the same meal twice within a six-month period, unless they request a repeat of favorites.

When she and Kevin travel, the first thing she does is go online to check out the restaurants and notes the menus she wants to try. While she is dining out, she said she is always watching the plates going by to other diners, too.

Kemp’s Flavor With Flair business will do small (up to 75 guests) catering jobs and she has also done cooking classes, recipe modification and organization, menu planning for those who want to do their own cooking and a few other “boutique” services.

Kemp’s motto for her Flavor With Flair business is “Healthy choices for hectic lifestyle” and her services are appropriate for busy families, professional couples or career-oriented singles.

Learn more about Kemp online at www.flavorwithflair.com.

Although she won’t share her chili recipe, she did share a set of recipes for a nice summer meal or two with the Roundup for this article.

Crostini with Ricotta and Goat Cheese

Serves 24

24 baguette slices

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 ounces Goat cheese

1/4 cup Ricotta cheese

1 tablespoon basil leaf, chopped

2 teaspoons lemon zest

salt and pepper

Directions: Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat. Brush 2 tablespoons of olive oil over the bread slices. Grill the bread until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side.

Stir the goat cheese, ricotta cheese, basil, lemon peel and remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a small bowl until smooth and creamy. Season, to taste, with salt and pepper. Spread the cheese mixture over the crostini. Arrange the toasts on a platter and serve.

Baby Spinach Salad with Roasted Red Onions, Pecans, Dried Cranberries, Crumbled Goat Cheese and Citrus Dressing

Serves 4

1 medium red onion

2 tablespoons olive oil, extra virgin

salt

8 cups spinach, baby

1/2 cup pecan halves, toasted

1/3 cup Goat cheese

1/2 cup cranberries, dehydrated

Dressing:

1 teaspoon lemon zest

2 tablespoons lemon juice

2 tablespoons orange juice

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

1/4 teaspoon thyme leaves, chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup olive oil, extra virgin

Directions: Dressing — Whisk the lemon zest, lemon juice, orange juice, Dijon, honey, thyme, and salt in a medium bowl until well combined. Gradually whisk in the oil, starting with a few drops and then adding the rest in a steady stream, to make a smooth, slightly thick dressing.

Yield: about 1/2 cup.

Salad — Slice the onion into thin wedges, through the root end. Toss with the olive oil, season with salt, to taste, and spread out on a baking sheet. Roast until just soft and brown, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Put the spinach and onions in a large bowl. Drizzle with some of the dressing and toss. Add more dressing as needed; spinach should just be lightly coated. Divide salad among 4 chilled plates. Top with pecans, goat cheese and dried cranberries. Serve immediately.

Couscous Salad

Serves 6

1 couscous, cooked, garlic or Parmesan flavored

1 red bell pepper, finely chopped

1/2 Vidalia onion, chopped

1 English cucumber, peeled; seeded and finely chopped

1 tomato, chopped

1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped

1/2 cup Feta cheese

salt and pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

3 limes, juiced; 2-3 limes or red wine vinegar

Directions: In a large bowl, toss all the ingredients with the olive oil and lime juice, to taste.

Chicken Sate’ with Peanut Sauce

Serves 4

cooking spray

Saté:

1 pound chicken breast, boneless, skinless, cut into 8 strips

1 tablespoon brown sugar, light

2-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, low sodium

2 teaspoons ginger, ground

1 teaspoon lemon zest

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 garlic cloves, minced

Sauce:

1 tablespoon brown sugar, light

1-1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, low sodium

1 tablespoon lime juice

2 tablespoons peanut butter

1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 garlic clove, minced

Directions: Prepare grill.

To prepare saté, combine chicken and next 6 ingredients (through 2 garlic cloves) in a medium bowl. Let stand 10 minutes.

To prepare sauce, combine 1 tablespoon brown sugar and the next 5 ingredients (through 1 garlic clove) in a medium bowl, stirring until sugar dissolves.

Thread chicken strips onto each of eight, 8-inch skewers. Place chicken on grill rack coated with cooking spray; grill 5 minutes on each side or until chicken is done. Serve chicken with sauce.

Blueberry Sauce

Serves 8

2 cups fresh blueberries

1/4 cup water

1 cup orange juice

3/4 cup sugar

1/4 cup cold water

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1/8 teaspoon cinnamon

Vanilla ice cream

Directions: In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the blueberries, 1/4 cup of water, orange juice, and sugar. Stir gently, and bring to a boil.

In a cup or small bowl, mix together the cornstarch and 1/4 cup cold water. Gently stir the cornstarch mixture into the blueberries so as not to mash the berries. Simmer gently until thick enough to coat the back of a metal spoon, 3 to 4 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in the almond extract and cinnamon. Thin sauce with water if it is too thick for your liking. Drizzle over ice cream and enjoy.

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