Chef Courtney Contos, owner of Contos Kitchen & Store (CCKS), was surprised when advance copies of Food & Wine Magazine’s March issue arrived at the store on the afternoon of Tuesday, Feb. 10. There on the cover was a photo of her Tacos al Pastor. Yet that appearance on the cover wasn’t the only cause for celebration. Upon leafing through the glossy pages, Contos found that her Shelburne cooking school was selected for national recognition.
“We are beyond excited to be chosen by Food & Wine Magazine as one of the top cooking schools in the country,” Contos announced by email hours later. “And on top of that amazing honor, our recipe was chosen to be featured on the cover of the March 2015 issue.”
While in the Yucatan preparing for a culinary tour, Contos was first emailed by a magazine representative to contribute some recipes for inclusion in the publication’s cooking school issue last fall. She eventually chose two recipes, the Tacos al Pastor because of the excitement over the culinary tour and because she was in the Yucatan when she was first contacted, and the Porter Bundt Cake with Whiskey Carmel Sauce for St. Patrick’s Day, a tribute to her Irish heritage.
“We tested the recipes about a dozen times each, if not more,” Contos explained. “We continued to change something a little each time, until the combination of flavors was absolutely perfect.”
Raised among the Windy City’s culinary elite, Contos parlayed her experience into a hospitality and culinary arts degree from Kendall College, Chicago’s top ranked school for preparing students in culinary arts and hospitality management. While still attending culinary school, Contos secured an internship at Charlie Trotter’s, a flagship restaurant in Chicago owned by the chef of the same name. After graduation, the internship turned into a full time job.
“Working at Trotter’s has always helped me receive recognition, even now,” Contos shared. For those unfamiliar with his work, Trotter helped put Chicago on the proverbial culinary map with his cookbooks, several James Beard Awards, and PBS television series “The Kitchen Sessions with Charlie Trotter.”
Before opening CCKS in April 2013, Contos’ credits include: a stint as a recipe tester for Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food magazine; cooking instructor at The Chopping Block Cooking Schools and Kendall College, both in Chicago; and executive chef instructor for the Cook Academy at The Essex Resort & Spa, among other positions.
So what’s next? For starters, Contos would like to be featured in the New York Times Food section, known for its selective focus on gastronomic trends and culinary innovation. And second, she would like see her culinary tours highlighted in the Times’ iconic Travel section. But for the immediate future, you can find her at CCKS spreading her love of food to her loyal customers. While both Contos and CCKS manager and buyer Liz Bernier are incredibly thankful to Food & Wine, on her blog Bernier added “We cannot thank our amazing community, customers, and friends [enough] for being a part of CCKS. For being at every class, every cook-off, and every party, for helping us make CCKS what it is.”
This special issue will hit the stand on Feb. 20. Be sure to pick one up in the store and congratulate Contos, then run home and try that taco recipe. To sign up for classes, visit www.chefcontos.com.