A Well-Seasoned Kitchen

Occasionally, a true chef is born. Someone with the innate ability to put together just the right ingredients to produce culinary delights. Genee Wilner is such a chef. Genee, who studied art and photography at college, had no interest in cooking. That was, of course, until Bob Dylan came into the picture. In 1977, Genee applied for a position to work for Dylan, hoping to teach his children arts and crafts. Instead, he offered her a job as their cook. She accepted the new challenge and proceeded to teach herself the art of cooking, learning a variety of cuisines and developing specialties along the way. After consulting several different cookbooks, Genee would practice the preparation until the result was an excellent meal. She soon developed an eclectic menu selection, offering everything from Vietnamese spring rolls to Indian curry chicken.

When she began specializing in healthy and vegan dishes, along with a macrobiotic diet, she caught Jane Fonda's attention and was soon hired as Fonda's personal chef. Other celebrity stints followed, including Al Pacino, Steven Segal and Charles Bronson. She has also pleased the personal palates of Helen Hunt, Jim Carey and Paul Reiser. Asked if cooking for celebrities presented any particular challenges, Genee says, "I found that the bigger the star, the nicer they were."

In addition to being a recipe developer, Genee is also a culinary educator. She breaks recipes down into steps, which makes it easier for people to follow; she integrates one dish into another so that people don't have to start from the beginning each time they cook. Whether it's a lesson on how to roll sushi, or a complete multi-course dinner menu, Genee enjoys teaching people the basics of cooking, and has participated as private party chef for many occasions.

Genee is also a self-described Culinary Kitchen Specialist. She possesses the unique ability to come into someone's home kitchen, re-evaluate all kitchen supplies and appliances and make helpful suggestions to organize the kitchen with a system that flows easily and efficiently. Having worked at "Sur La Table," this is one cook that is certainly familiar with the latest kitchen essentials. "I find that sometimes people are lost in their own kitchens. I help provide them with the right tools to have at their fingertips," Genee explains. "Just like an artist, if you have the right tools, you can create!" Sounds like a particularly invaluable asset for people undergoing a kitchen remodel!

Genee's love of cooking extends beyond all those cookbooks that she has been collecting. When asked who her favorite chefs are, Genee replies, "Jamie Oliver and Nagella Lawson, from the Cooking Channel." And her favorite local dish? "The one that comes to mind first is the eggplant parmesan appetizer at 'Ca Dario.' But I also love 'The Montecito Cafe.' They will prepare whatever I want – I can change the menu selection if I desire."

Genee Wilner's combined talents as a celebrated chef, recipe developer, and kitchen management consultant, make her a truly unique Chef of the Month. When summing up her philosophy on cooking – and life – Genee simply states, "I like variety in most everything in life – recipes, food, restaurants ... the only exception is ... men!"

VEGETARIAN SUSHI ROLLS

3-4 sheets toasted sushi nori

3 cups cooked short grain brown rice, (1c. rice to 2 ¾ c. water) cooked a day ahead

2 tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

1 carrot, cut into ¼-inch-lengthwise strips, blanched or thinly shredded

1/2 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut lengthwise, into ¼-inch strips

1 medium avocado, peeled and sliced lengthwise

3 scallions, sliced in half, lengthwise

6¼-inch strips pickled diakon or pickled ginger condiment, patted dry

1½ cups broccoli or alfalfa sprouts

1) Prepare to assemble Sushi:

Place sushi mat on a cutting board. Place rice paddle or large wooden spoon in a glass of water. Prepare all ingredients and place next to the sushi mat for efficient assembly.

2) Spread rice over Nori sheet:

Lay nori sheet, shiniest side down, and the longest edge coming right to the bottom edge of the sushi mat. Remove the rice paddle from the water, tapping off any excess water. Scoop up about ¾ cup rice and spread a ¼-inch thick layer evenly over the nori sheet, leaving 1/3 inch from the top and ¼ inch from the bottom uncovered.

3) Assemble the Sushi Roll:

Lightly sprinkle toasted sesame seeds evenly over the rice. Place one carrot strip horizontally across the rice, about 1-inch above the bottom edge. Continue with strips of cucumber, scallion, avocado, pickled diakon or pickled ginger. Add approximately ¼ cup alfalfa sprouts evenly over the vegetables.

4) Roll up the Sushi:

Lift up the bottom of the mat, rolling rice over the filling. Use fingers to keep filling in place. Continue rolling while pressing down to make roll as compact as possible, while also moving your hands over the mat and pulling towards you as you compress the sushi roll. Continue rolling until you reach the uncovered edge of the nori. Moisten the nori edge with water and complete rolling, sealing the nori together. Wrap the bamboo mat tightly around the sushi roll and gently squeeze the roll with your hands. Unroll the mat and place the roll seam side down. Set aside. Repeat process.

5) Serve:

When ready to serve, very lightly moisten a sharp knife and slice the sushi roll into ½-inch thick rounds. Serve with sushi dipping sauce and wasabi (optional)

SUSHI DIPPING SAUCE

¼ cup low sodium tamari

¼ cup mirin

½ teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger root