Three things instantly become clear when you meet Joel Gamoran ’07 (CLAS), resident chef at high-end cookware retailer Sur La Table: This guy loves food. This guy loves people. And this guy is poised for something very big.
Find him a place to cook – whether it’s a makeshift kitchen in the middle of a misty apple orchard or a hot plate in a dorm room – and inevitably, Gamoran will find a way to work his magic. In fact, the 27-year-old UConn alum is as relaxed leading gourmet cooking classes for discriminating New Yorkers as he is whipping up dishes before millions of viewers on NBC’s “Today” show.
Combine all of that with his sparkling personality, bright smile, and effortless gift of gab, and – voilà! – you have a star in the making.
“I really, really, really want to inspire people and get them excited about food,” says Gamoran, who in 2011 returned to the East Coast, relocating from Sur La Table’s headquarters in his native Seattle to the company’s location in the Big Apple. “I would love to share that with the world.”
He is well on his way to doing exactly that. Teaching cooking classes at Sur La Table and appearing in its bevy of online product videos, Gamoran is also making media appearances locally and nationally – cooking things up on live TV, from the “Today” show to “New York Live.”
In addition, he has co-created and starred not only in a film nominated for a 2012 NYC Food Film Festival Award, but also in a beautifully produced, documentary-style Web series known as “Humbly Northwest,” which recently sold to a production company and could yet be purchased by a network.
For the high-energy chef, who dreams of having a cooking show of his own by the time he reaches 30, this is simply all in a day’s work – and he can’t get enough of it. As he good-naturedly asserts, “That’s what you do when you have a dream, right?”
MADE TO ORDER
“I was 12 or 13 when I kind of discovered what cooking did and what it was,” says Gamoran, who, in learning through experimenting, has never followed cookbooks. It was at that age he realized his family and friends seemed to congregate whenever he was making food. “I think a lot about why I started cooking,” he says. “I just really love the fact that it brings people together.”
Volunteering throughout high school to work for free in his favorite Seattle-area restaurants, Gamoran quickly gained invaluable hands-on experience in the culinary world. But it wasn’t until he arrived at UConn and found himself living in a dorm – without a kitchen – that he truly missed that part of his life.
“About three months in, I realized how passionate I was about cooking and how much of an outlet it was,” he says. Stumbling upon a flyer in the dorm hallway encouraging students to create their own major, he immediately knew what direction to take. “I was ecstatic,” he says. “My first thought was, ‘I am so doing this.’”
Over the next two years, Gamoran met with deans, professors, and advisors from across UConn to create a personally tailored degree program from scratch. Crediting Margaret Lamb – now senior associate director of the Honors Program – for her support, he shared UConn’s course catalog with chefs and restaurateurs in Connecticut and Seattle, asking them to identify classes they considered most essential.
Gamoran enrolled in everything from accounting to nutrition and also spent a Study Abroad semester at a cooking school in Florence, Italy, graduating with an individualized degree in restaurant management – the first major of its kind at the University.
“I’m so grateful, and I’m such a big fan of UConn because everyone was so flexible,” he says. “It wouldn’t have even gotten to phase one if people weren’t receptive to it.”
RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
Although that degree earned Gamoran entry into the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley and, by the age of 23, a prominent position as a restaurant chef in San Francisco, his rapid success somehow felt empty.
“Bottom line is, when you’re cooking, you’re just staring at a wall a lot of the time,” he says. “You’re in the back of that kitchen, you send out the food, and you never even see the person’s reaction. So it wore on me – a lot.”
He left the restaurant business behind, convinced he would quit cooking altogether – that is, until he landed a job as an instructor at Sur La Table in Seattle. It offered the perfect mix of meeting people and making food.
“I was obsessed. You have no idea,” he laughs. “I would take any shift. I would cancel plans. I would just be so excited. I was totally reinvigorated.”
Quickly working his way up while still looking to break into the media world, Gamoran was then recruited to Manhattan, where he arrived about a year ago.
Perhaps more in his element than ever before, today Gamoran shows no signs of slowing down. Yet he asserts that, without his alma mater, he would not be where he is today.
“What was really amazing about UConn, for me, was how supportive they were, and how they gave me a chance to be here,” he says. “I’m here because of them.”
All over again, too, he is back to developing his own personal recipe for success, as it were. True to form, he follows no cookbook, simply experimenting with what inspires him most.
“I feel like this path is similar to the path I took at UConn, where there was no major,” he says. “There is no road to having a show on TV. You have to create it. And I feel like my whole life’s been like that. I’m just waiting for the ‘UConn’ out there to give me a chance, wherever they are.”
To see Gamoran in action, visit joelgamoran.com.
2 egg whites
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste, divided
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
Big pinch salt
1 cup strawberries, cleaned and quartered
1 lemon, zested and juiced
- Preheat oven to 200 degrees.
- Put the egg whites, cream of tartar, and half of the vanilla paste in the bowl of a stand mixer. On high speed, mix until the egg whites get foamy, then add the sugar and keep mixing until the egg whites look marshmallowy and stand straight up when you dip your finger into the mixture.
- Using a big spoon, dollop the mixture onto a parchment-papered sheet pan. The mounds should be about half the size of your fist. Sprinkle the top of each mound with some poppy seeds and bake in the oven for about 2 hours. They are done when you can open one up and it is dry all the way through.
- In a new bowl, add the cream, powdered sugar, salt, and the rest of the vanilla paste. Using a whisk, whip this until you have a nice light whipped cream.
- In another bowl, combine the strawberries, lemon juice, and zest, and let them sit for at least 20 minutes.
- In a big bowl, break the meringue cookies into big pieces, and fold in the whipped cream and the strawberries. Mix together and spoon into a frosted jar. Serve immediately so that the cookies stay crisp.