Leah Eveleigh stays true to her roots in her cooking
Chef Leah Eveleigh used her Filipino roots to become the first Denver chef to dominate her episode on Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen, a reality-based TV show hosted by Alton Brown.
“The thing about the show is I stayed true to my roots and I shared that, and it is so wonderful to see that it was appreciated,” says Eveleigh, who beat out the other contestants with Filipino-inspired dishes such as carne asada quesadilla with pineapple, chicken noodle soup with ginger and lemongrass and crispy fried anchovies (the winning dish).
“The most challenging thing was going into a battle with no idea of what was going to be thrown in front of me. My ability and wit came into play. You have to be in the game, in the moment and bring everything you have,” she says.
Eveleigh, who is a native of the Philippines, moved to the U.S. nearly 30 years ago and decided to call Colorado home in 2000. She gained popularity at the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival selling dishes inspired by her roots and opened Chef Leah’s Kitchen, which offers private chef, cooking demonstrations and catering services.
“I love cooking,” Eveleigh says. “I have been passionate about food since I was a little girl. I learned it from watching my mom cook.”
Eveleigh recalls watching her mother cook for three-day periods to prepare for fiesta celebrations in her family’s province. From whole pig and chicken adobo (a national dish of the Philippines) to dozens of sides, soups and desserts, delicious food was showcased and devoured by family and friends, she says fondly.
“A part of my passion is that my cooking connects friends and family,” Eveleigh says. “My heritage, my roots and growing up in the Philippines is a big influence on my style of cuisine. That is very close to my heart, and I want to share it. I love to experiment making new dishes from scratch, using only fresh ingredients, and I love to entertain my friends.”
Before her TV appearance, Chef Leah Eveleigh found success locally. Her accomplishments include winning first and second place at culinary competitions at the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival, being named Westword‘s “Best of Denver” in 2008 for her banana lumpia (a fried banana dessert) and finding success as an entrepreneur. Although she was happy to dominate Cutthroat Kitchen,
Eveleigh says being chosen as a contestant to work with the host Alton Brown and other talented chefs from all over the country was an achievement in itself.
“You have to believe in yourself and dream big,” she says. “Whatever you’re passionate about, really follow your heart and give everything you’ve got and never give up.”
As for what’s next on Eveleigh’s menu, the winning chef will travel to the Philippines for the first time in 20 years to help her family rebuild after Typhoon Haiyan. Eveleigh also plans to immerse herself into the culture, the food and the Filipino people and bring back the experiences to complete her first cookbook that will be released this year.
In the spring, Eveleigh will attend an accelerated, comprehensive professional culinary program at the Colorado Culinary Academy in Greenwood Village.
“I want to improve my skills, and I want to be ready for another competition,” Eveleigh says.
In her spare time, Eveleigh enjoys spending time with her family and traveling, which she says allows her to expand her flavor palate by sampling the cuisine of other cultures. Eveleigh also practices yoga, which keeps her calm and poised and helps her maintain a balanced mind and body.
“I love challenges; that’s what drives me,” she says. “When I’m passionate about something, I put my heart and soul into it. I want to do the best that I can and have high standards and expectations of myself. I have a lot of goals in life that I’ve accomplished, so this is only the beginning and I‘m excited of what’s to come.”
“I am also grateful for the support of the Asian community, the Denver community and especially the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival for giving me the opportunity to explore my passion in the culinary field.”
For more information, visit her website at www.leaheveleigh.com or contact Chef Leah at 720-339-5252.
Filipino chef showcases her culinary skills during the viewing party of Cutthroat Kitchen
By: Mary Jeneverre Schultz | Asian Avenue magazine
On January 19, about 100 family members, friends and foodies packed the second floor of Lodo’s Bar & Grill in Highlands Ranch to watch the reality show of Cutthroat Kitchen.
But this viewing party was centered on the cunning and conniving skills of Chef Leah Eveleigh, who was one of the first chefs to showcase Denver and the Philippines.
“The view party was awesome,” said Aurelia Jareno Grinstead, a member of Denver-based Pinoy Pals. “It’s always inspiring to see the Asian community come together with the diversified audience to support such an event.”
Audience reactions ranged from shrieks of laughter to shouts of joy as Chef Leah played the game right by buying tools to foil her competitors’ efforts in making simple entrees such as a quesadilla, chicken soup or fish. Even Chef Leah’s snarky remarks received a lot of yells to show support.
Since it was a Sunday night after the Bronco’s AFC victory game, others took to their personal couches at home to watch the reality show hosted by Alton Brown. Food cart owner Kathy Geitl loved the show. “I think the show was great,” she said. “Leah made us proud and made the Filipino community look good. I’m very proud and can only inspire to be like her one day.”
Flat-screen TVs surrounded the second floor of the restaurant, so everyone had the best seat in the house.
During commercial breaks, Chef Leah and her team raffled prizes for cooking demonstrations to keep the crowd entertained and engaged throughout the one-hour show on the Food Network.
For most viewers, the best part of the show was Chef Leah biking to make pitchers of margaritas. The other woman chef remarked Chef Leah was about one third of the size of the bike, which prompted giggles and laughs from the viewing party.
While Chef Leah came out on top as the winner, it was amazing for her to dedicate her victory to the Philippines.
“It is another historic event for the Filipino-American community of Colorado,” Jareno Grinstead said with much pride.
Mary Jeneverre Schultz loves Chef Leah’s fried bananas. Follow her on Twitter at @Jeneverre.