I’ve done at least a couple of write ups on Chef Maegen Loring and the food she creates (and we enjoy) at Niner Wine Estates. She is one of our favorites and I thought it would be fun to do a Q&A with her to get to know her a bit better. You can check that out below and be sure to go visit her. Thank you to Maegen for doing this Q&A with me.
Matt: Where are you from originally?
Maegen: I was born in San Francisco and moved to Los Alamos, New Mexico in my first year. When I was 4 years old, we moved to Tucson, Arizona. I remained there until I was 15 years old and moved to Windsor, Ontario, Canada to finish high school. From there I moved north east to London, Ontario, Canada. In 1983 I moved to San Francisco until 1987. I then moved to Phoenix Arizona until 1991. I have been in the central coast of California for 25 years now.
Matt: What was the moment, dish, or person that first got you into cooking?
Maegen: I have been into cooking from a very early age. I grew up in the days of latchkey kids and by the time I was in third grade, I cooked almost all of the meals for my family. Having older brothers, I quickly learned that they were on my side when I fed them.
Matt: When did you know that cooking (becoming a chef) would be your life?
Maegen: Again, from an early age I always wanted to own a restaurant. I tried hard later in life not to become a chef, but I always came back to it.
Matt: How many years have you been cooking for a living?
Maegen: I cooked for a living from the age of 16 to 20. I then went to work for the airlines for 15 years, always moonlighting in the kitchen somewhere. In 1993, I started my catering business and have been cooking full time ever since.
Matt: Do you still have the same passion, has it intensified, or has it evolved into something else?
Maegen: I would say I have more passion than when I started. It has become a way of life for my husband and I and our social circle. I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Matt: What are some of the stand out restaurants you have worked at and possibly some career highlights?
Maegen: In about 1985 I worked in a restaurant in San Mateo, California called 231 Ellsworth. At the time it was owned by Ken Ottoboni and Kurt Grasing and was rated one of the top restaurants in the bay area, and was rated the best wine list in the bay area. Ken had a wild mushroom foraging business that was large and provided lots of amazing mushrooms to the restaurant. Back then, have a chanterelle or morel was not something common in the states. I learned a lot about fine dining, from the food aspect to the service end of things. It was the start of a love affair with wine as well. I was the only woman in the restaurant. It was a wonderful experience, never had to deal with the challenges of a mostly male kitchen, rather, they all treated me like a sister.
Matt: Do you have a philosophy on food/ cooking?
Maegen: Food should be kept fairly simple. Eat what is freshest and local. Always taste a dish and ask yourself what is the magic ingredient. If you can’t name it, you probably need to develop that dish a little more. It can be as simple as a drizzle of olive oil over a dish, a fresh herb to top it with or a contrasting texture that makes the dish stand out.
Matt: How long have you been at Niner Wine Estates?
Maegen: A year and a half
Matt: I know you have a chef’s garden at Niner, will you have that going each season?
Maegen: Yes. We are about two weeks away from planting the summer garden. The winter garden was planted a bit late, so we have everything going off at once. We hope to stagger the summer planting and subsequent plantings.
Matt: You had mentioned that Niner will start raising its own animals, can you give more information on that?
Maegen: Working on the details of that now. I am not far enough along to give you any info yet.
Matt: Since you cook all day at work, do you still enjoy cooking at home?
Maegen: Yes. On my days off, we often have guests over for dinner. When I go on vacation, we usually try to get an apartment at some point so I can cook. It is vary inspiring to be in another culturally different food region and cook, using the local ingredients and techniques.
Matt: What are a couple of your favorite dishes to eat?
Maegen: That changes all of the time. I love one pot meals at home, simple braises and soups. I eat a lot of vegetables at home, cooked or in salads. And I eat almonds like they are going out of style.
Matt: When you’re not working, what do you enjoy doing?
Maegen: I cook. I read cook books and cooking articles. I am a huge fan of Lucky Peach Magazine. I love to hike and camp and travel in general.
Matt: Married? Kids? If so, what does your spouse do and how old are your kid/s?
Maegen: Married to the same man for 24 years. He is an architect, so we love to travel to places that have interesting architecture and food. Usually they go hand in hand. I am a stepmother to one daughter, who is 40 years old has given me 2 grandkids, ages 13 and 10.