The Illchef: A Culinary Genius

Chef Shehu

Shehu Fitzgerald has never been an average chef. He skateboards, snowboards, paints, does ice sculpting, and has traveled to such places as Britain, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii. When he is not doing those things, he is a laid-back, funny guy, who likes to play video games and be a big kid with his 2-year old daughter, Che Elizabeth, and wife, Vee. On top of having already mastered a wide range of cuisines and dishes, it is no wonder why he was picked to appear on the sixth season of Food Network’s competition show “Chopped,” airing on May 3rd at 10pm.

“My mother, my love of food and my deep hatred of paperwork and office jobs,” were some of the reasons Fitzgerald gave as to why he pursued a culinary career. Raised in Staten Island, the 36-year-old has loved cooking since he was 5 years old with the help of his mother, Saundra, who is an esoteric cook and baker.

Graduating from Johnson & Wales University‘s Culinary Arts Program in 1994, he has worked at almost every type of restaurant, including his first job as a prep cook at R.H. Tugs, a cook at T.G.I. Fridays, a “Chef de Partie Poissonier” (chef of the fish section) at Les Célébrités Restaurant at the Essex House Hotel and his current job at 2 West Restaurant at the Ritz Carlton. He has also been fortunate enough to work under the instruction of Holly Peterson Mondavi at the Culinary Institute of America, cook for Princess Ann of England and become a Sous Chef at a beachfront restaurant in Auckland, New Zealand.

Fitzgerald, whose first name means “teacher” in the Nigerian Arabic dialect, began his first web series “Culinary Genius” in 2009 and has recorded 12 episodes since then. As his name suggests, the episodes of “Culinary Genius” are meant to teach viewers about different aspects of the culinary world, from simple things like separating an egg and vanilla-flavored sugar to the more fancy Hollandaise sauce and Gnocchi.

Che Elizabeth and Vee Fitzgerald

Recorded in their Staten Island home by his wife, Vee, the appeal of the series is that it speaks to a wide demographic of viewers, from Hip-Hop heads to laypeople on a budget to high-class chefs. Watching him cook looks like fun. Vee Fitzgerald agreed, “Shehu is so talented; his passion for food is infectious and he celebrates food every day.  Life with him is never boring!”

Watching how delicate he is in preparing them is just as fascinating as eating them. Even better, his dishes are hardly ever disappointing.

Spiced Duck Breast

His spiced duck breast with French green lentils and baby turnips in an apple cider reduction sauce is a good example. The tart-sweetness and slightly syrupy feel of the apple cider sauce provides juiciness and a nice balance to the spices used in the duck and vegetables.

According to Food Network, the channel “is committed to exploring new and different ways to approach food – through pop culture, competition, adventure, and travel…”. Fitzgerald’s experience fits well with the network’s goals. With its distribution to more than 96 million U.S. households and more than seven million Web site users a month, Fitzgerald will receive plenty of attention, especially for his web series, which has reached over 3,000 viewers.

Shehu and Vee Fitzgerald together own wineLIFE, a wine shop located on 386 Van Duzer in Staten Island that opened in 2010, in addition to a catering business incorporated in 2003. Vee Fitzgerald, who is a wine consultant and president of the New York City chapter of Women for WineSense, spoke about how she combines her expertise in wine and her husband’s expertise in food.

“We have a monthly instore event called Meet the Chef where he creates foods to offer customers in the store that are paired with featured wines.  We have also done catered food and wine pairing events for private clients and he has cooked for my Women for WineSense group on several occasions.”

Fitzgerald has also provided encouragement and support to aspiring chefs. His words of advice for them: “Stay focused, travel and keep your eyes on the prize.” Those same words seemed to have worked for him. “I’m just having some fun trying to spread the word of my love and my passion.” Asked what his goals as a chef are, he jokingly replied, “To rule the world.” With all of his accomplishments, he might very well be on his way there.

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5 Responses to The Illchef: A Culinary Genius

  1. Ellen says:

    You must have had fun interviewing him. I will make sure to record that episode of Chopped. Hopefully he wins!

  2. tr103625 says:

    Chopped is a great show and he seems like the perfect competitor. I am definitely going to watch it for him, I hope he wins!

  3. Elsa says:

    Interesting profile – was a good read!

  4. Sabrina says:

    He sounds like the most interesting chef! I can’t to see him on the show, and, I am quite jealous of you having that yummy meal. 🙂

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