There’s no way around it, I am a foodie. Not only do I love a tasty dish, but I love dining out. One of my favorite places to dine is Mrs. K’s Toll House in Silver Spring, MD. I discovered this gem a few years ago on a business trip. Now, I rarely drive past that stretch of I-95 without making a stop. Mrs. K’s Toll House serves American cuisine in an elegant, but charming setting. If you are making a special trip their Sunday Brunch is beyond delicious. You have not had Sunday brunch until you’ve had a crab omelet at Mrs. K’s Toll House. On a recent visit I had the chance to speak with the Executive Chef, Maurisee Upshur to find out how she keeps things cooking.
RDD: Did you always know that you wanted to be a chef?
Maurisee: Actually, my first passion was computers. I have a degree in Computer Science.
RDD: How did you come to a career in the culinary arts?
Maurisee: My mother and grandmother were always cooking and baking cakes, so it’s in my blood. My mother had a chocolate business for some time. She used to do chocolate bunnies and cake decorating until she retired. I used to watch Food TV and felt I should follow my passion for cooking. At the time I was in banking when I decided to go to culinary school. I enrolled in the Baltimore Culinary College. I completed my externship in New Orleans. So I use a lot of creole influences in my cooking.
RDD: How did you come to work at Mrs. K’s Toll House?
Maurisee: I saw an ad for line cooks. I applied and I started at Mrs. K’s on the last day of school. I worked under another chef for a while. Then I started running the kitchen in under 6 months. At first I hesitated at the thought of running the kitchen, but they felt I was ready. Being a chef is always a learning experience. I’ve always been an organizer and a leader.
RDD: As executive chef, what is a typical day like at Mrs. K’s
Maurisee: I come in early and check stock. I make sure that deliveries of fresh produce and fish are in. The sauces have to be ready for the sous chef. I also spend time doing research. Reading magazines, watching T.V., looking at what other restaurants are doing. On Hell’s Kitchen the chefs are very vocal. I think that is for TV. But [this work] can be very stressful.
RDD: A lot of times we eat the same meals over and over. When you try to step out of the box, there are so many unique ingredients that it becomes too costly. How does one avoid a food rut?
Maurisee: I find myself in a food rut at home. A lot of recipes require a lot of spices. Look for recipes that focus more on the main ingredient. I don’t want the main ingredient to be muddled or overpowered by the spices. I also encourage experimenting with vegetarian dishes. There are so many recipes for one dish. You can go to sites like Food TV and Epicurious to find recipes that may not require excessive ingredients.
RDD: One thing that I love at Sunday Brunch is the crab meat omelets. Have you ever considered teaching cooking classes?
Maurisee: There have been many requests for an omelet class.
RDD: What is your advice to others who want to pursue the culinary arts?
Maurisee: Travel. Go backpacking. Visit places like Japan, China, Italy, France and India. Then come back. Fusion is a big thing. Then you can go anywhere. I mentored a young man from the age of 16-19-years old. He went on to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). For me this is a second career, so I visited other regions of the U.S. But I recommend travel.
RDD: You mentioned that you watch chefs on TV. Is there any chef in particular that you identify with most?
Maurisee: G. Garvin doesn’t use excessive ingredients. I like that. I don’t like spices to overpower the food. I also like traveling food shows and Iron Chef. I like to see what others are doing.
RDD: What is your biggest reward as executive chef?
Maurisee: Getting to talk to customers at Sunday Brunch
RDD: What’s next on the menu at Mrs. K’s?
Maurisee: Currently, I’m working on the menu and making it more modern instead of traditional. Right now, we offer at least one vegan entree and appetizer. We’ll work more on presentation also.
Well, until you can make reservations for Mrs. K’s, Maurisee has given us a new dish to try at home: Chipotle Shrimp & Jumbo Lump Crab pasta. Give it a try!
Chipotle Shrimp & Jumbo Lump Crab Pasta
4T Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Shallot, thinly sliced
¼ Cup Leeks, thinly sliced
3TChipotle Peppers, pureed
¼ cup White wine
½ stick Butter, cut into cubes
½lb. Jumbo lump crab meat
Spinach, to taste
In heated sauté pan, add olive oil, garlic, shallot and leeks. Saute until tender. Add shrimp and sauté for 2 minutes under medium heat. Add chipotle pepper puree. Deglaze with white wine. Cook until sauce is reduced by ½. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add cold butter and stir until melted. Add Crab Meat and spinach and toss until heated through. Add Linguine toss.