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April 13, 2004 > Food Guru Dinner Party Slated for April 21

Food Guru Dinner Party Slated for April 21

Chef to the Stars will present two meals and tips for local residents

by Ceri Hitchcock-Hodgson

What do Marlon Brando, Diana Ross and George Burns have in common? Aside from being rich and famous they have all had the pleasure of enjoying the culinary creations of Bonnie Cummings, professional chef and lover of fine food.

Originally from the East Coast, Cummings penchant for cooking was sparked by a Home Economics class that she took in the fifth grade. She then purchased her first cookbook and her love of cooking began to flourish. From that moment on, Bonnie Cummings devoted her time, and talents, to making each meal a masterpiece.

"When I got a little older and it was my dating years, instead of going out on dates I'd choose to stay home on a Saturday night and perfect my pizza dough," admits the dedicated chef.

After graduating high school, she attended a four-year college at her parent's request yet her desire to cook never waned, and, as Cummings says, "years later I was home, cooking and I said to myself, 'Okay, if someone said to me here's a million dollars and now you can do whatever you want with you life,' I said I would stay home and cook all day."

At 28 and free to choose her own path, Cummings applied for numerous loans geared towards women entering the workforce and, with determination, she put herself through culinary school. At the Culinary Institute of America in New York she was one of the oldest students in her class, as most others were fresh out of high school. The age difference did not deter but rather drove her that much harder to succeed. While at the CIA, she worked at Gracie Mansion, the official residence for the mayor of New York City, Ed Koch, as the Weekend and Special Events Chef. Cummings cookery was a hit among the mayor's guests including high-ranking political officials, entertainers such as Mikial Borishnikov.

Mayor Koch asked Cummings to follow him to the governor's mansion if he was elected. Cummings declined the offer because to take on such a role would have limited her creative capabilities and, as she states, "there is always something new to learn with cooking."

While at the CIA in New York, Cummings became skilled at everything from appetizers to Asian Cuisine, canapˇs to Kosher cooking. Upon completion of her training at the CIA, Cummings found herself working as a pastry chef in the kitchen of the famous French restaurant, L'Orangerie, in Beverly Hills. As the only woman working in the kitchen of an all-male staff, the tradition of male-dominance in the professional kitchen was alive and well. She could go no higher than her position as pastry chef in the male-dominated kitchen and she was not allowed to work Saturday nights because it was "too stressful" for a woman.

Beneath her petite frame and pleasant demeanor is a woman whose looks can be deceiving. Once in the kitchen, Cummings owns the area around her and this drive lead her break through the glass ceiling of the cooking world. In fact, her next job was clinched because of her determination and drive.

She was such a success as the pastry chef that she was chosen to be the replacement for Wolfgang Puck as the head chef for MGM Grand Air, a luxury airplane, taking stars and such from coast-to-coast. Cummings was the food and beverage manager and in charge of creating the menu that was to be served to celebrities and dignitaries who boarded the plan. Stars such as Diana Ross, Dustin Hofman (a gracious diner who wrote a note of appreciation for the wonderful food), Brooke Shields (a vegetarian in need of special meals), Van Halen, Richard Gere, O.J. Simpson and Warren Beatty all sampled the gourmet goodies of Chef Cummings aboard the flying four-star restaurant.

Bonnie was also the Director of Dining Services for Gibson, Dunning & Crutcher, the fifth largest law firm in the United States at the time. The dining area served over 300 people a day and Cummings was responsible for everything from the design of the kitchen to the creation of the menu. Culinary functions around New York included elegant dinners at the Museum of Modern Art. Liberace was a client of the firm at the time and Cummings served a fine meal for him. Catering to the tastes of finicky lawyers may seem to be a difficult task to most but Cummings only has fond memories of cooking for them, "Once they saw what I could do, they would totally trust me."

While in Los Angeles, Cummings cooked for various functions and at the houses of many well-known personalities including Merv Griffin. She also had her own restaurant called Garden of Allah that was part of a health club, popular among celebrities and Hollywood's elite.

About eight years ago, Cummings decided to move to Northern California with her husband and children and take on one of toughest jobs of all-full-time mom. The life of a professional chef is surprisingly competitive and one must constantly promote not only culinary skills, but themselves, as well. Bonnie Cummings had had enough of competing to cater events by sending an expensive bottle of wine and thank-you notes dripping with platitudes in order to be noticed. "My food speaks for itself," she simply states and the constant competition that is part of being a chef in Hollywood was not what Cummings wanted. While in Los Angeles, she was asked to do two Food Network episodes and a CNN interview. Far from seeking out the limelight, Cummings says she only did the interviews because she was asked to, not for the exposure. To Bonnie Cummings, perfecting her craft is part of life and she will share her talents with anyone who decides to sit down at her table.

"I enjoy cooking. I'll cook for Joe Schmoe down the street or I'll cook for the President, they're going to both get the same quality from me."

Today, Bonnie Cummings caters to the discerning tastes of her husband, David, and their three children, Michael, 16, Courtenay, 14 and Jason, 9. She is a self-declared "food hotline." Friends and family have been the beneficiaries of Cummings' knowledge by calling her self-described "food hotline" when in an Epicurean emergency. She enjoys nothing more than to help cooks-in-need.

Cummings will be lending her professional advice to the Tri-City community on April 21, 2004 at the Temple Beth Torah at 4200 Paseo Padre Parkway in Fremont. The dinner party will consist of two meals; one California Continental and the other Asian-inspired, both consisting of the same ingredients but prepared differently to create two completely different dinners. The cost is $18 for a full night of cooking lessons from a professional chef and two gourmet meals. The dinner will benefit the Women of Temple Beth Torah

To attend contact Sidney Weintraub by calling 510-894-6310 or simply mail a check made out to the W.T.B.T. and send it to W.T.B.T. c/o Sidney Weintraub 35116 King Court, Fremont, CA, 94536. .

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