If being a mom is anything like a high wire act, Linda Hymes, The Dancing Gourmet, is poised to pull off the balancing act of her life. After a 15-year career as a professional ballerina, she traded her pointe shoes for a set of knives and is carving out a new career as an award-winning cookbook author.
On her toes
Derek Gaffney, Linda’s husband, paired his sumptuous food photography with her healthy and elegant recipes in their first joint publishing pas de deux, released to rave reviews. The couple eagerly awaits the debut of their most creative effort to date: the arrival of their first child; a son tentatively scheduled to appear on March 9, 2004.
Released in 2002, The Dancing Gourmet: Recipes to Keep You on Your Toes! won two prestigious Gourmand World Cookbook awards and a Foreword Magazine “Cookbook of the Year” award. “Celebrity chef” status was immediately bestowed on its creator, leading to book signings, broadcast and print interviews, and cooking demonstrations at high-profile gourmet food events.
Linda thrives on the challenge of developing recipes that appeal to people of all ages; gourmands and health-conscious diners alike. In addition to being a cookbook author and culinary celebrity, she also writes a food column for Point Magazine, the largest dance magazine in the United States. Following in the successful steps of The Dancing Gourmet, Linda and Derek have slated publication of their second cookbook, The Nutcracker Sweet: Show-Stopping Desserts Inspired by the World’s Favorite Ballet, for later this year.
As an advocate of healthy cooking, Linda says, “I suppose parenthood will focus my attention now to a much younger audience. In fact, my third book will focus on healthy cooking for kids.” She recalls, “In my family, we were never allowed TV dinners or processed foods — my mother cooked only fresh vegetables — even back then she knew that it was not only healthier, but more economical.”
In addition to keeping up with the high physical demands of her professional training at the School of American Ballet at Lincoln Center in New York, Linda enrolled in college at Fordham University. During this period she discovered the secrets to maintaining a lifelong balance between her taste-buds, healthy food, mouthwatering presentation and her tutu’d waistline: “I quickly learned that to handle such a busy schedule it was very important to eat properly.”
When Linda met Derek, she was dancing professionally; he owned a restaurant at the time and was also an accomplished photographer and sculptor. After marriage, they intentionally set aside beginning a family for several reasons. She reflects, “I wanted to finish dancing then move into a career I was passionate about that would also allow me the time to raise a family.”
I carefully selected just the right leotard and spent an hour warming up in the hallway with a number pinned on my chest. When it was my turn, I was instructed to walk across the floor in front of the panel of judges. When I got to the other side, like 193 other hopefuls, I was simply told, ‘Thank you very much.’ That day, however, was rewarding nonetheless. I had a delicious and comforting lunch of sweet potato soup at a cozy restaurant called Mrs London’s. I’ve been making this rejuvenating soup ever since.”
Stints as a real estate agent and law student in England led to Le Cordon Bleu École de Cuisine in London. Thinking aloud, Linda says, “I suppose every dancer goes through a transition period before finding a second career that will inspire and fulfill them as much as dance. I realized to be happy I needed a career that was both creative and flexible.”
Despite concerns about stereotypical long hours and limited pay in the restaurant industry, Linda’s passion for cooking allowed her to take a second look. “I quickly came to realize the professional food industry offers vastly more career possibilities than I had ever imagined — mainly that I could be my own boss as a private chef and caterer,” she says, adding, “My highly-disciplined background, creative talent, and academic skills also made me well suited for a part of the industry I had not previously considered — food writing, styling, and publishing.”
Being a professional ballerina gave Linda unique and valuable insights into maintaining an optimal weight while staying strong and healthy. “Paying careful attention to diet naturally made me more aware of the nutritional content of everything I ate. Since I also happened to love food, I was determined not to deprive myself. I learned how to make the most of healthy ingredients. People think they must starve themselves in order to stay thin. Developing my own recipes has been my most effective method of weight control — I refuse to diet.”
Variety, moderation, and balance are the three components of Linda’s culinary philosophy. “These have come to be my motto,” she says, continuing, “but what is most important is that the food I eat has to taste great.” The Dancing Gourmet cookbook is the result of years of experimentation; cooking for friends and family as well as working as a professional chef. Linda emphasizes, “The book is not a diet cookbook — I have lots of diet cookbooks — I never use them. My recipes are so popular first and foremost because they’re delicious, secondly because they are healthy.”
There’s been a subtle slow-down during the latter months of Linda’s pregnancy. Reduced promotional travel for The Dancing Gourmet has afforded her more time to concentrate on recipe testing, writing, and development of The Nutcracker Sweet. She says, “During my pregnancy, I’ve been more vigilant about consuming enough calcium, protein, and iron. Since my diet is generally quite healthy — relying on lots of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and fish — I found no major adjustments have been necessary. I’ve also managed to continue dancing for exercise throughout my pregnancy, which has helped greatly in keeping me strong and energized.”
When asked about the potential impact of motherhood on her professional approach to cooking, Linda says, “Although I emphasize a healthy and nutritious approach to cooking, I’m a classically-trained chef who values all great food! I believe along with a well-balanced diet, occasional indulgences are the key to well being. This is a philosophy I’m proud to pass on to my children.”
Saratoga Sweet Potato and Ginger Purée
Linda Hymes hopes to breastfeed her newborn son and adapt some of her own recipes when the time comes for “baby food.” She says, “My favorite ‘comfort’ food also happens to make great baby food. Pureed vegetable soups are wholesome and easy to make.” She says you need only to reduce or omit the spices in recipes when making them into baby food. “This soup is great because it’s as much a method as a recipe, which can be adapted to a wide variety of vegetables.
2 lbs. sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
2 tablespoons sweet unsalted butter
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cups non-fat lower sodium chicken broth
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup low-fat milk
Freshly ground black pepper
Place potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook until potatoes are done, about 15 minutes. Drain potatoes and set aside. Rinse pot.
Melt butter in pot over low heat. Add onions and sauté until translucent. Add potatoes, chicken broth, ground ginger, and salt. Remove from heat.
Place cooled soup in the bowl of a food processor or blender, in batches if necessary. Pulse several times to break down mixture. Add milk, a half cup at a time, and process to a purée. Return soup to pot and season with freshly ground pepper. Reheat over low flame until heated through and serve. Serves 6-8