Meet Chef Betty Fraser

by Kim Roedl

Top Chef Betty Fraser will be the special guest at the first-ever Taste of the South Sound Food Festival on May 2. Fraser is the owner of GRUB restaurant in Hollywood and As You Like It Catering. While she may not have walked away as the winner of Season 2 of Top Chef, Fraser did gain fans around the country during the show as she won challenges and dazzled audiences with her winning personality. Recently Fraser took time out to talk to the Home Town Clipper about her life, love of cooking, Top Chef, and what's next in her career.

How did you become interested in becoming a chef?
Quite simply it was spurred by my love of eating. And when I was a little girl there weren't a lot of kids named Betty around so I felt connected to Betty Crocker. My mother had a bunch of her cookbooks and I'd get lost in them when I was about 8 years old. It just fascinated me. I was also fortunate that my Mom encouraged me. I love seeing parents exposing their children to the joys of cooking. It's a great shared activity.

How did you break into the industry as a respected chef?
I am self-taught and I think it influences my cooking in a different way than if I were a classically trained chef. I tend to work from my palate and imagination. A lot of trial and error but it allows me to be creative.

You are self taught, right?
I've done my best to put myself out there and take chances. In this business you have to earn respect. My business partner and I started our catering company by throwing parties for our friends. Word of mouth is the best type of marketing and it didn't take long before we started getting calls for outside jobs. Of course, being on Top Chef didn't hurt. There is a lot of competition to get on the show and I think the chefs are 'legitimized' a bit when they make it on air.

How long have you owned your businesses-- Grub and As You Like It Catering?
As You Like It is going on 16 years and we just celebrated Grub's ninth birthday. The great thing is that no matter how long we've been doing it we still learn something new every day. Our work is constantly evolving and it keeps pushing you to try new things.

How did you land the opportunity to be on Top Chef?
Complete serendipity. I received a phone call from one of their producers on a quiet Friday afternoon and he wanted us to cater the shoot. I was in a playful mood and 10 minutes of silly banter on the phone turned into, “Would you like to audition for our show?”

How has appearing on Top Chef changed your life and career?
Being on a national TV show obviously provides a lot of exposure and shows people what you can do. It has definitely impacted our business and we still get a lot of guests from out of town drop by our restaurant to taste the food they could only see on TV, particularly our “Bada Bing Betty Grilled Cheese” which I made a version of on Top Chef that actually ended up being on TGIF menus for a year. I have been fortunate to have had a lot of opportunities come my way from being on the show... like the Taste of the South Sound Food Festival! I've been able to travel to a lot of cooking exhibitions and have met some great people. The thing that is still a little strange for me, but a lot of fun, is when people recognize me on the street. I had no idea that so many people were Top Chef fanatics. You can see it in their eyes when they make the connection. And then they usually have a lot of questions about the show. “So tell me... what was the deal with you and Marcel?”

Would you do any more reality shows?
Absolutely. It was a great experience all the way around. Even when it was really stressful and I was tired, I still loved the energy. I was a musical theater actress for many years so you put me in front of a camera and I'm ready to go. My business partner Denise DeCarlo and I are actually working with a high-profile producer in Los Angeles on a few cooking/reality show ideas right now. It's fun to be on this side of the process because we're creating concepts that play to our strengths. Denise is a country girl from Arkansas and I'm a big city girl so we have an interesting dynamic to work with. We're really looking forward to what the future has in store.

What's your personal motto?
Never say never.

Where are you originally from?
My City by the Bay, San Francisco. And as a young person growing up there I was exposed to some incredible restaurants. Whenever I visit I always go with a list of new places to try.

Where do you call home now?
It took a while for me to admit it but Hollywood is definitely home now.

Do you have kids?
I do but they all have four legs and wet noses. I have three dogs who mean the world to me. To come home after a marathon day and be greeted by nothing but happy faces is the best feeling in the world.

Are you still friends with any of the other Top Chef contestants?
You bet. Ilan and I are always in contact and going out to dinner or cooking for each other. I just saw Elia about a week ago and it was like we were college buddies. And in some of the work I‟ve done for Top Chef I have a chance to meet contestants from other shows and it‟s like we have a kinship from going through a shared experience. It‟s like we went through the cooking hazing game and came out the other side alive.

Describe your style of cooking.
Soulful and fun. If you can't pronounce it or explain it then I don't want to make it for someone. Our restaurant focuses on what we call “California Comfort Food” which is designed to soothe the soul and put a smile on the face. And even though in our catering work we incorporate a wide variety of styles and menu choices, I don't like to go too far "out there." I believe food should be relished and enjoyed while not being overwhelming. I've been served food in restaurants that is so beautiful and intricate that I almost feel guilty eating it. I think I'm more of a "dig-in" kind of gal. Thankfully, there are a lot of us out there!