Photo submitted by Mary Ann Allen

Three favorite neighborhood chefs’ indulgences, ingredients and last meals.

What would your last meal be?

I don’t eat a lot of meat, but my last meal would be rare ribeye steak with lots of garlic and thyme on it.

What’s your favorite moment in the process of cooking?

The prepping, the chopping and getting all my ingredients in line. Just the prepping for me is very relaxing and the anticipation of how things end up is exciting. And the experimenting. I got these things in the fridge and let me see if this will work with that.

Who is your food mentor?

My ex mother-in-law was a Palestinian and that woman could cook like an angel. We would sit on the sofa and go through cookbooks like novels and just talk about the food. She taught me so many things about Middle Eastern food and just patience. All this stuff that I’m telling you–all the layering of flavors–I think I’ve probably learned from just watching her and helping her out.

What is the most useful tip that she gave you?

You never bang the cake. Bang takes away the air from your dough.

What is one thing you hate to see home cooks do?

I hate to see them throw away leftovers for a lack of imagination. You can definitely create brand new meals with leftovers.

Did You Know?

Arepas are corn cakes that are made by hand. “It’s really a sandwich if you want and the they’re made out of milk corn, it’s not the same as the Mexican corn,” says Allen. “This one doesn’t have any lime in it. It’s just free corn. And then we mix it with water, salts and a little oil. Most of it is gluten free.”

How did you get your start in the kitchen?

Well, I started cooking when I was like 14 years old. I was raised in South America and in Bolivia. You know, we’d cook from scratch every single day. So I was in the kitchen from a very young age and helping out. We always went to the fresh market. I have three sisters and my mom told us to split the list, you know, and I take off and go buy vegetables or whatever meat or fish.

My favorite cooking technique is roasting. I like to get the deep flavors out of food by roasting them at very high temperatures and then finishing them up really slowly. I’ll throw in beefy bones and onions in the oven and let them get nice and dark. Then make a real nice stock with that or a soup.

My favorite ingredients are garlic and lemons. I can’t go without garlic.

My least favorite ingredient is innards like heart and kidneys. I’m not into that.

What is the meal you cook for yourself when you want comfort?

When I was doing the Frugal Chef, I had to change meals every day. I’ve fallen into the habit, so I cook different things every single day. One of my favorite things is a black bean and squash chipotle chili for comfort, or I like making Thai curries. One of my favorites is a red Thai curry with salmon, squash and bamboo shoots.

What is the most indulgent thing you make?

I make a custard by hand which then we turn into ice cream. I make it at home but now we make it at the restaurant, too. The most indulgent one is one that’s laced in dulce de leche.

You stir and stir and temper your egg yolks until it’s nice and thick. Then I sweeten it with condensed milk. Then I add the dulce de leche. Oh, that stuff is amazing! Also, dark Belgian chocolate, like the Brigadeiros– Brazilian little fudge balls on a stick. It just melts in your mouth.