The Eating...Our Words 100: Ellen Schwartz, Culinary Instructor & Private Chef

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Who she is:

Ellen Schwartz, better known as Chef Ellen, has been in the kitchen for as long as she can remember. A native Houstonian, she and her family have a long history in the food industry. Her father and grandfather -- a butcher -- owned the Riverside Market grocery stores since the '40s. She even grew up watching her mother make and sell cheesecakes to Houston's famed Maxim's restaurant.

Even with a master's degree and a successful career in school counseling, Ellen's interest in the food industry never waned. A series of events -- including a daytime television pep talk from Oprah (yes, that Oprah) and a distraught bride that didn't know how to cook -- led her back to what truly makes her happy: teaching and cooking.

What she does:

Put simply, Chef Ellen is a private chef and culinary instructor. But really, this culinary Superwoman wears many hats; she can be found instructing cooking classes with Leisure Learning, appearing in cooking segments on FOX 26, testing recipes for chefs and cookbooks, catering private events, holding speaking engagements for charities and clubs, running food-prep demos, hosting private classes for bridal parties, teaching summer classes at St. Luke's Methodist Church and Wharton Kids' College, and more.

Even with all of that, she finds time to volunteer for Houston's own Recipe For Success, a nutrition-education foundation aimed at "preventing childhood obesity and encouraging long-term health," where she teaches elementary school children about cooking and gardening.

What she loves about her job:

Ellen is warmed by all of the heartfelt feedback she receives from her customers. She loves nothing more than opening an e-mail from someone excited that they perfected a certain dish or telling her that the event they hosted was a hit. It makes her job fulfilling and inspires her to do more.

How Houston inspires her:

Ellen loves traveling, from New York and New Orleans to D.C. and L.A. (where she'll soon be visiting her daughter), but to her, there's nothing quite like Houston -- especially with the city's culinary and cultural diversity.

She loves fusion cuisine and can't imagine not being surrounded by amazing Asian markets or being able to find and experiment with nearly every kind of pepper at places such as Fiesta.

With her family's longtime history here, Houston truly is home.

What's next:

She's in the process of becoming an educator for Diet Design, a weight loss/nutrition program, and is working more closely with bridal events such as interactive showers and luncheons. Once a wedding planner for Neiman Marcus, she enjoys consulting with the bride and groom on everything from their wedding registries and menu planning to private cooking lessons. On Saturday, January 19, you can catch her as a guest on Cleverley Stone's radio show from 1 to 2 p.m.

But the day we spoke, she was busy finishing a killer cake for her friend's holiday party...which, of course, was a hit.

The Eating...Our Words 100:

James DeLeon, Certified Sommelier and Craft Beer Nut at Kroger Alex Padilla, Executive Chef at Ninfa's on Navigation Kevin Strickland, Herder of Cats and Owner of gratifi Brock Wagner, Godfather of Craft Beer in Houston and Founder of Saint Arnold Brewery Blanche Kinze, Murray's Cheese Master at Kroger Bear Dalton, Wine Buyer and Educator at Spec's Sam Ray of Republic National Server Thai Van of Kata Robata Dale Robertson, a Populist Among Wine Writers Denman Moody, Author of The Advanced Oenophile Benjy Mason of Down House

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