Sunday, February 2, 2003

Food for philanthropy

Lawyer brings lifelong hobby to fund-raising productions

By Jim Knippenberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A conversation with Terry Monnie, an attorney who became a certified chef three years ago.

[photo] Terry Monnie
(Joseph Fuqua II photo)
| ZOOM |
What is it with you and food? You're a 58-year-old real estate attorney with plenty to do, but you take on tons of work throwing fund-raisers built around food.

I've had a lifelong love affair with cooking. It's always been my creative outlet where I could start and finish something, see and taste the results. It's a lot different from moving papers around a desk all day.

A few years ago I got really serious and enrolled at Cincinnati State (Technical and Community College) and studied with chef Paul Teal, now at Culinary Sol. I became a certified chef three years ago.

What's it like going back to school in your mid-`50s?

It wasn't the first time I went back to school. I moved here directly from a tour of duty in Saigon in military intelligence.

I was assigned to a unit in Sharonville and that's when I started at Chase Law.

But with cooking, that was my passion and I was chasing a dream, so it was easy going back. But I'm pretty sure I was the least talented in my class. And don't even ask about my knife work.

What about your knife work?

Let's just say it's still evolving.

Best Chefs of Northern Kentucky is 6 p.m. Feb. 10 at Covington's Metropolitan Club, 50 E. River Center Blvd., Suite 1900; $150 per person. (513) 793-5297.
But now you cook every day?

I do. My favorite things to cook are fish, usually four nights a week, and vegetable dishes. I especially like creating dishes from vegetables people don't normally like.

I'm always finding more things to cook because I read cookbooks every night.

So why not just chuck law and get a job cooking?

It's too hard. People think law is hard, but there's no comparison. In a restaurant you have to create a perfect dining experience every time. Not every day, but every time.

Where do you eat when you don't cook?

I especially admire cutting-edge chefs like Elliot Jablonsky (Tink's Caf», Latin Quarter, Vineyard Caf», Sugar n' Spice), David Falk (Boca), Jean-Robert de Cavel (Jean-Robert at Pigall's), Jimmy Gherardi (Js). Jimmy has such a world view of food, and that's something this city really needs.

Your upcoming fund-raiser is all Kentucky chefs. Why?

Last year, I did a similar fund-raiser, Best Chefs of Cincinnati, at Js and it was a big success. But Kentucky has wonderful chefs, too.

Such as?

Kelsey Yerger (Metropolitan Club, cooking seared sea scallops with sliced halibut); 0uita and Chris Michael (Holly Hill Inn, Midway, Ky., saffron lobster bisque with spinach almond cream topped by caviar); Kathryn Bishop (York Street Caf», shrimp Provencal); Kristy Schalck (Tousey House, spiced bourbon-barrel smoked pork with black-eyed peas).

Is it nerve-wracking, working with so many chefs, what with the profession's reputation for short fuses?

Not at all. They're so giving, they all jumped at the chance to do this. And it's hilarious when you get them all together, teasing each other about their weight gains and cooking techniques.

Who gets the money?

The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and to Shriners Burns Hospital, two groups I work with year 'round. I have a special deal with Shriners. I tell my clients if they're not happy with my work, don't pay me, write a check to Shriners.

When people RSVP to the benefit, they get to decide which group gets the money.

Why don't you weigh 1,000 pounds?

I've actually lost weight since I started cooking. It must have something to do with a new understanding of food, and my emphasis on fresh fish and vegetables. I don't make grocery lists.

I go to the market, usually Dorothy Lane in Springboro, Jungle Jim's or Wild Oats, and buy what looks best. Then I plan dinner around it.

Just like you plan your travels?

Yes. I pick a city then do research and plan the trip around the restaurants.

My fianc»e and I also do a thing a couple times a year. It's a surprise day trip where one of us plans it and drives. The other one is blindfolded until we get there. We've found a lot of good food that way.

Do you eat outside the country very often?

Absolutely - a lot of restaurant tours of France and Italy. I love eating there because a meal is such a ritualistic experience - the food, the wine, the pacing, the total experience.

You're a wine fan?

Oh yes. At one time I had an 800-bottle collection. And I never cook without a glass of it by my side.

Is there a food you won't eat?

Not really, unless you count fast-food - and even with that, every now and then I really start craving a Johnny Rocket's cheeseburger.

When you cook at home do you wear chef's whites and a toque?

Never. I wear an apron and a baseball cap.


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