I am so excited to introduce you to one of my local culinary heroes. My wonderful friend, Kate Lee (she is one of the talented photographers from our recent Smarty Photoshoot), is lucky enough to call this woman her mother-in-law. Betty Lee is a legend throughout Charlotte for her masterful cooking skills. She is a self-taught home cook and her kitchen is known by many chefs as the “best restaurant in Charlotte”. She can be found teaching Chef’s Choice classes on Chinese cooking at the prestigious Johnson and Whales University and also cooking live on The Charlotte Today Show. Her children, Jeff and Jennifer (aka Wookie), inherited her love of food and cooking and will undoubtedly pass it along to their children.
Meet our Smarty Mom & Grandmother of the week, Betty Lee!
Betty’s SM Stats:
Hometown: Born in Taiwan, grew up in New Jersey
Marriage/Family: Married 39 yrs, 2 wonderful grown children and fantastic daughter- and son-in-law, who have given us 3 amazing grandkids.
Years in Charlotte: 14
Neighborhood: Myers Park
When did you start cooking?
When I was about 10 yrs old, I started helping my mother in the kitchen prepping (not actually cooking) whenever my parents entertained. I bravely attempted to cook my first dinner party in college – a full 12-course Chinese dinner cooked on a small 2-burner stove, with only a small 2×3 table, a tiny sink, and small 4-foot refrigerator to work with. I had no appetizers to offer the guests when they arrived at 7 o’clock. By the time dinner was finally ready around 10:30, some of the guests had fallen asleep after drinking wine on an empty stomach. Thank goodness the guests were only forgiving college friends who were just happy to (eventually) get a good free meal. Fast forward to the present when my husband and I still love to entertain often with traditional multi-course dinners (the general rule for a Chinese meal is to have one dish per person at the table. Rule only applies to sit-down dinners and not large parties).
Who was/is your biggest influence in the Kitchen?
Of course my mother was my initial influence to fabulous home cooking as well as “fancy company food”. I started watching Julia Child when I was in high school and it must be the love of eating delicious food that eventually attracted my husband and me to all the best restaurants and chefs in New York or wherever we travel. Favorite chef “gods” are Thomas Keller, Eric Ripert, Daniel Boulud and many more:)
We watch you cook on the Charlotte Today Show and you make it look so easy. What advice do you have for people who are “afraid of the cook”?
Build confidence by following a simple recipe from a reliable recipe with clear explanations. Ask family and friends for easy recipe suggestions. It would be helpful to cook along with someone who can guide and explain the why’s and wherefores the first few times.
What is the best meal you have ever eaten?
There have been many, but one that pops in mind is dinner at Thomas Keller’s Per Se where the food was exquisite, perfectly prepared, beautifully presented and I felt really pampered by the impeccable service. One of the highlights was being invited after our meal to see the gleaming, well-organized kitchen where it was all prepared. Another impressionable meal was a birthday celebration at Lidia Bastianich’s Felidia when she personally made and served a family style multi-course dinner (years before she became super famous).
I have heard you throw the most amazing dinner parties. What is your secret?
Need to start shopping and prepping well in advance. Do as much as possible ahead of time. Find out if guests have food allergies or aversions so the menu can include at least something they can eat. Get help, if possible, with clean up.
Favorite family-friendly restaurant?
Favorite restaurant for a special occasion?
Your Grandkids are adorable. What activity do you love to do with them?
They (except the new baby) love to help me cook:} measuring, adding ingredients, stirring, decorating cupcakes, etc. and they make breakfast with me whenever they stay over. They have developed quite a palate for a wide range of flavors. Aside from cooking, and playing games and building things with Legos or Smart Links, etc., my husband and I often take the grand kiddies to plays at the Children’s Theatre, to the zoo, and Discovery Place.
Last meal on earth, what would it be?
Probably a meal at Eric Ripert’s Le Bernardin with Eric of course; I’ve read so many terrific reviews about his cooking and seen what a perfectionist he is that I’ve just got to experience it for myself.