Elmhurst chef Mike Kubiesa — who partnered with Kristin Cavallari on the new cookbook, “True Comfort” — is ready to get off the sidelines and focus on his goal of becoming a celebrity TV chef.
Kubiesa said he met former Bears quarterback Jay Cutler in 2015 while cooking for players and coaches at Halas Hall in Lake Forest. Cutler offered him a job as his family’s chef. He said he fed the Cutler-Cavallari clan — which includes kids Camden, Jaxon and Saylor — until last year.
The 29-year-old chef said he now cooks for Bulls forward Otto Porter Jr. while also working dinner parties and consulting for clients. Cutler and Cavallari, meanwhile, split in April after nearly seven years of marriage. The following month came the announcement about the end of “Very Cavallari,” a TV show that followed Cavallari as she expanded her Nashville-based Uncommon James lifestyle brand and opened a store in Chicago.
Cavallari has been talking about her divorce recently — “It was something that I truly thought about every single day for over two years” — while promoting “True Comfort,” a collection of 100-plus recipes free of gluten and refined sugar that came out Tuesday. Kubiesa wishes he was part of Cavallari’s press tour for “True Comfort” and “True Roots,” their 2018 bestselling cookbook. He penned part of the “True Comfort” introduction and opines in the book about some of the recipes, but said he wanted “more shoutouts or just acknowledging that I actually am a professional chef that has the brains to able to put these (recipes) on paper.”
“I just kind of wish some things went down a little differently, but I’m very grateful,” said Kubiesa, a York Community High School graduate who studied radio and TV broadcasting at St. Ambrose University in Iowa and culinary arts at Kendall College in Chicago. “I’m ready to show my talents and showcase what I actually can do.”
Cavallari’s publisher and publicist did not return Tribune requests for comment. The following interview with Kubiesa has been edited for clarity and condensed for space.
Q. What role did you play in the creation of “True Comfort?”
A. “True Roots,” actually, is our first book. All the recipes from each book are basically what I would cook for them as a family. And (Cavallari) was like, Hey, these recipes are great. Do you mind if we make a cookbook out of them? Sure, I did it. I would say a lot of these recipes are down-home-cooked food that I would make for the family with a healthy twist on it. She liked them a lot, so we turned them into book one and now, book two. Book two is more comfort food. I would say I was like the undercover chef and brains behind the book.
Q. So how many of the recipes did she come up with versus the recipes that you came up with?
A. They’re all my personal recipes that we had catered towards her and her family. We went over every recipe together, but I would say the majority of them are things I have made in the past and just elevated them or health-ified them for the book.
Q. Do they really eat like that all the time? It’s gluten free, it’s no white sugar. Does anybody really eat that clean?
A. I’d say they do the majority of the time. But, yeah, I mean it’s kind of hard for a family with three young kids to eat like this 100% of the time, but I would say they eat like this at least 70 to 80% of the time, especially when I was with them. I cooked like this every day, all day. When I worked in Tennessee (where the family lives), I would do 14 days straight, come back to Chicago for six days, be with my wife. I’d go right back down to the farm, and I cooked like this every single day, breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Q. Was it a tough sell to their kids? Some of the recipes may not be easy for kids to understand.
A. A lot of the higher-end ones and a lot of the vegetables were hard for any kid to eat them. They were pretty good with a lot of them, but some of these recipes I catered towards the kids as well. There were times I was making (the parents) their meals and making the kids something separate, but I would still maintain that healthy quality. No white flour, no white sugar, but I would disguise it. I would do oat-flour-crusted chicken fingers, things that kids still like. I would do goat yogurt ranch, health-ify it. A lot of coconut creams too. So they were pretty good eaters for kids, I’ll say that.
Q. You were also on “Very Cavallari.”
A. I was on Season 2, maybe three episodes. I was making sausages with Jay. Me and Jay were scouting out a meat butcher shop. I was the chef who was supposed to do that with him. That fell through, as a lot of things happened in their life recently. So that fell through, and I was on the Christmas dinner party special.
Q. So Cuts, his butcher shop, is not going to happen?
A. I’m not going to say it’s not going to happen. Just right now it’s on the back burner, so I can’t give you a definite answer on that.
Q. Are you sad to see the show got canceled?
A. Personally, not really. I feel like where they were in their lives, it was a burden, so I’m not too sad that it ended. It was funny while it lasted, but I didn’t really see it going too much farther than three seasons, to be completely transparent.
Q. Did you get any fame from being on the show?
A. Yes and no. Like I said, I’m kind of the undiscovered chef. They kind of kept me on the back burner, and now I’m putting myself out there more. I’m kind of done being second fiddle, so I haven’t really marketed myself that way yet, but I think now I’m going to start in a little bit. I didn’t have that many talking parts.
Q. Do you have any plans for other cookbooks with Kristin or cookbooks on your own?
A. I’m planning a cookbook on my own. I’ve been working on that. It’s a process, but I have about maybe 150 recipes in the works already that are my own, that are the real-deal recipes catered to the everyday person.
Q. Obviously you keep in touch with Kristin. Do you still keep in touch with Jay? Was there a fight over you in the split?
A. I had actually left before all that 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 as much as I did back and forth. We were trying to have a baby. I’m still in contact with each of them. Me and Jay are buddies. He’s an undercover foodie. He likes to cook a lot. He likes to smoke meats. He likes to make sausages, so me and him, we’ll do that on the side together. I taught him how to do a lot of meat cookery.
I’m still in contact with Kristin. As far as the books, don’t know if we’re going to have (another) one. If she approaches me with an offer, that’s something we would talk about down the road, but we haven’t talked about that yet. I’m a little undercover, so I kind of wish that I had some shoutouts or a little bit more notoriety on these books because a lot of people don’t really know about me, and I did work hard on this book. It took us like a year and a half to make.
Q. How much effort goes into these books?
A. I would go to Tennessee for the 14-day period. I would have all my menu prepared, all my recipes. I would cook all these meals for them as a family. They would OK it. She would be like, Oh, I like this. Can we do it this way? I’d go revamp them, come back. We’d test them a few times. Each recipe we tested three or four times before we actually sent it to the publisher, so it takes some time. And especially when you’re working with gluten-free flours, it’s hard to nail something on the first try. For instance, the chicken pot pie with the oat crust. That took us maybe five or six tries to get that crust down because it falls apart, and you really just have to work with it. I would say that this book was harder to perfect. It definitely took us a few tries on many recipes.
Q. Is there a favorite recipe of yours in the book?
A. I put a cauliflower tartine in here, and “tartine” is a French word for “open-faced sandwich.” So what I do is, I take a cauliflower steak and I roast it, and I build the smoked salmon avocado. I have a cashew crema on top you eat with a fork and knife that’s really good. The red-wine-braised short ribs are really good. The shakshuka, which is a Middle-Eastern-style egg and tomato dish. The squash carbonara. The apple butter and lamb chops are really good. They’re all good recipes in here. The pizza frittata is really good. I’m looking through it now. It’s hard to pick. Now that I’m remembering I did all these, I’m like, Man, I forgot about this recipe. The roasted eggplant with the almond puree is really good.
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