By Allison Eatough
Lisa Wingate-Alas has two constants in her life: family and food.
The Annapolis mother of two is head chef at Bavarian Brauhaus, a new German restaurant in Hanover owned by Max and Sandra Eggerl. There, she cooks everything from knackwurst and apple bratwurst sausages to kartoffelklosse potato dumplings and Wiener schnitzel. On an average weeknight, she prepares between 50 and 60 meals. On Saturdays, she makes more than 200.
At home, Wingate-Alas spends her free time cooking healthy meals for her 4-year-old daughter, Sophia — just as she did for her 17-year-old son, Erik Crouse, when he was little.
We recently talked with Wingate-Alas in the Bavarian Brauhaus kitchen about how her interest in cooking began, how she balances her full-time job with family life and how to avoid cooking the same family meals, night after night. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
Q: When and how did your interest in cooking begin?
A: It was probably seven years ago. I was working at Annapolis Seafood Market (as a waitress), where I met my husband (Franco Alas, who is a manager there). Prior to that, I was working at (The Golf Club at) South River in Edgewater with senior chef, Bruce Allen. He was the one who basically taught me everything. I was working in the restaurant as a bartender. (Allen) did a lot of catering jobs, weddings, and he didn’t have the manpower to help him. He asked me a few times, “Would you help me out with catering jobs?” And I said, “Sure, no problem.” He just said, “You have something for cooking, Lisa. You prioritize perfectly for the kitchen. I think this is something you should switch (to).” So, he immediately pulled me from the bar and made me his sous chef. He taught me everything. He’s definitely my mentor and guide.
Q: How did you learn to cook German food?
A: When I came here, I had no idea about German food. I did not know a thing, and that was pretty scary to me. I’m pretty good at seafood and steaks. That’s what I’ve cooked, American food. But (co-owner) Max (Eggerl) taught me everything. He taught me how to make his dumplings, which are his signature here. The spätzles, all the jagers, the Wiener schnitzels, all the sausages. So, I learned and mastered all of them. Within a month or two, I started creating my own things. There’s a sauerkraut donut that I created. It has apples and bacon in it and rolled in cinnamon sugar. It’s a huge hit.
Q: What is your favorite meal to cook at home – and at work?
A: I love cooking Italian food. I can cook a mean lasagna and spaghetti. But I love my grill. I could probably grill every day. It could be snowing, and I’ll be outside grilling steaks. Everything (I make) is from scratch … noodles, the sauces. My days off (I am) consistently cooking. That’s when I get to do what I want to do at home. At work, probably the vegetarian spätzle. It’s a German noodle. That’s my favorite because you use a bunch of sautéed vegetables. I could eat that all day.
Q: What do you make for your daughter? Is she a picky eater?
A: When (Sophia) was 1 or 2 years old and we started introducing her to food, my husband got her to eat a lot of Salvadorian food, which is what his mom taught him to cook. (Sophia) would eat beans and rice all the time, which was so shocking to me. She loves fruit — strawberries, bananas but no kind of melon; peanut butter sandwiches, eggs, but no meat at all yet. She loves French fries, but they need to be a certain kind. It’s so funny. She won’t eat a crinkle cut fry, but she’ll eat a straight fry.
Q: What do you make for dinner at night?
A: The majority of the time I’ll prepare it before I go to work. But a lot of times my husband cooks because he knows I’m working late. I do a lot of Crock Pot stuff because it’s really easy for them, and it’s home when I get home. I do a lot of stewed meats in the Crock Pot. A lot of the time we do eat late because of my job – 10 or 11 o’clock at night. He’ll wait for me to get home. (Sophia) usually eats earlier.
Q: How can families find fresh inspiration for mealtime?
A: Look up a recipe. Google is the best thing in the world because you can put anything in it, like “I have chicken, broccoli and peas.” So many different things will come up. The problem is people don’t like to try new things. Try ethnic nights. Do an Italian night. Do a Mexican night. Do a German night. Always try something different. Don’t be scared to venture out of your box of spaghetti and macaroni and cheese. A lot of people feel that’s all you can cook, when recipes are your own creation.
Q: What’s your home kitchen like?
A: Everything is brand new. It’s all stainless steel. No white refrigerator anymore. My spice cabinet is not like an ordinary person’s — it is three different shelves, so I probably have every spice you can think of. I’m all about spices. And the kitchen has a gas stove. There’s a total difference between cooking on gas and cooking on electric. A lot of people say when you’re a cook and you cook at home, you always set off the smoke detector because you don’t have the exhaust fan that you have in the kitchen at work. It’s true because I set it off the other day sautéing vegetables. I’m so used to cooking on a high flame. That little exhaust fan is no comparison to the one that’s in the (restaurant) kitchen right now.
Q: What is a kitchen tool you could not live without and why?
A: My knife. I’ve mastered cutting, and I love my knives. It took me a long time not to chop my finger off. I’ve cut my hand quite a few times. It’s horrible. Once I got a good knife set, it made a huge difference.
Q: How do you balance life working full time, as well as being a mom
A: I work eight to 10 (hour shifts). This place, they offered me every other Sunday off. It’s rare in the restaurant industry where you can get a weekend day off. I don’t have to leave for work until (after) 2 (p.m.) and then I get here and work from 3 to 11 (p.m.). I have either Sunday/Monday off or Monday/Tuesday because we’re closed on Mondays. (My husband and I) try to put our schedules so (Sophia) doesn’t have to go to daycare as much. He gets off by 2 o’clock. Every Friday, Sophia goes to daycare because that’s the day we all work, no matter what.
I make sure in the morning, (Sophia and I) do as much as we can together. We play, we go to the park if it’s warm outside. We’ll go to the store. I will do as much as I can with her during the day.
I do miss being with her, but there are things in my life that I need to make me happy, too. Cooking makes me happy. In order for me to be happy at home, I need to be happy at work, as well.
Lisa Wingate-Alas’ Szegendiner Goulash recipe
1 pound pork loin (cut into cubes, fat removed)
¼ pound of bacon
1 small white onion (chopped)
2 cups vegetable broth
1 pound of sour kraut
1 teaspoon caraway seed
6 ounce Tomato paste
2 bay leaves
1 cup heavy cream (at room temperature)
salt & pepper to taste
In large pot cook bacon for 2 minutes, add in cubed pork and chopped onion. Cook about 10 minutes on med-high heat until pork is done.
Stir in paprika and tomato paste; cook on medium heat for 2-3 minutes making sure pork is well coated.
Stir in vegetable broth, sauerkraut, caraway seed and bay leaves.
Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 45 minutes.
Remove from heat and slowly stir in heavy cream.
Salt & pepper to taste.
Best served with a tbsp of sour cream on top and bread for dipping.