Chef Summer Key is an American Culinary Federation award-winning certified chef. She started culinary school at Sinclair and after years of learning and honing her skills, and working with renowned chefs, she started her own catering business, Key Ingredient Catering, located right here in Dayton. Not only does she cater parties and special events, but she also offers private chef services and weekly meal service.. She shares “my career success is 100% because of the chefs that have pushed me along the way.”
What is your favorite ingredient to cook with?
I love smoking food so probably brisket is my favorite item to cook because it’s not easy and it took a while to get it right. Male chefs often claim to be the best grill masters so that may also be a small part of why I had to perfect it 🙂
What ingredient do you dread?
I don’t really dread making much of anything because I love my job. I would say Oysters are the hardest because of the shucking, but I will make an Oysters Rockefeller in a minute because they are such a crowd pleaser.
What’s your favorite dish to make?
This is the most popular question I am asked. I always say most Professional Chefs should be able to make most things or figure it out with some research. I enjoy making pasta because like smoking meat it is a learned talent that takes practice. My favorite thing to eat is brunch because chefs have to work brunch early in the morning after a late close most of the time. It is normally super busy and we are grouchy. When I get to go out and enjoy it, it feels like cheating or sneaking. A great luxury.
What’s your favorite pig out food?
Ice cream is it,for me. My guilty pleasure food is old school tuna tetrazzini, cabbage rolls and my mom’s beef and homemade noodles. Ohio girl over here!
What restaurant, other than your own, do you like to dine at in the Miami Valley?
If I eat out it’s normally something ethnic that I would not normally make myself. Mixteca and Ginger Spice are my favorites. I like food trucks for this reason as well. Lots of really great ones. I love going to the festivals and getting meatball subs from the Italian fest and gyros with Greek fries from the Greek fest. I remember being pregnant with my son and asking if the person at the admission desk could just let me in for a gyro real quick. “5 minutes” I said . Chefs can make really intricate fancy food but we ” buy” simple food prepared well with real ingredients.
What’s your best advice for home chefs?
Don’t give up. You will get better. If you love something, keep trying to make that recipe. Over and over learning from your mistakes. Write the changes on the recipe so you don’t forget. Share the fun with your family. Kids will eat food they have a say in.
If you could invite any 4 guests to a dinner party who would they be and why?
My dad is the biggest one, he died before I became a successful Professional Chef and found my passion. My Grandma Ruth. I come from a big family and she always made sure I had what I needed. My kids so they could enjoy them as well. I cook from my soul every dish is a part of me. Preparing a special meal is my love letter to them. It’s very personal and intentional.
Who do you look up to in the industry and why?
Well if you know me at all then you already know this answer. Chef Anne Kearney and Anthony Head. I love them very much.They both have done so much for me in different ways. Chef Head taught me in school to do more, better, faster. A good cook, cooks. A better cook reads and the best cooks write. He pushed me to join our competition team in culinary school at Sinclair. I won an American Culinary Federation bronze metal for the state of Ohio and became captain then coach. He introduced me to the top chefs in our city doing events for them with him and other students. Holding me accountable for my work still to this day, never letting me give up.
Chef Anne is the best Chef our city has and I wanted to work and learn from her so bad. I jumped at the opportunity as an occasional catering staff then prep cook when someone called off . I worked my way up to the line with a lot of hard work and effort then opening our new restaurant in Tampa named Oak and Ola. Anne taught me so much. Refining my skill, setting high standards and molding me into the strong female chef I am today. She told me once, you will have to work twice as hard as a man in this industry to be seen as equal. I will never forget that and that. It is one of those statements that become a part of you. Mentors are the ticket to your own success.
What do you do in the Miami Valley on a day off?
Even though I never get a full day off I always make time for my son. He has to deal with my schedule so I make sure we go on ‘”adventures” a few times a week. Normally something fun outdoors. Metro Parking it up. Young’s dairy, putt putt golf, swimming and movies/drive in theaters are a few. We love the $6 tuesday shows at The Green
Share a kitchen disaster, lucky break or other interesting story:
I rent kitchen space so that means I get bumped out of my kitchen space if the place I am renting decides to hold an event that day. This has happened to me multiple times. It is so stressful trying to find another space at the last minute. One time this happened to me on Valentine’s day and 2 staff members quit the same day. Talk about a mini meltdown. As an entrepreneur you have to think outside the box and find a way. I must say I have gotten pretty good at it. Putting out fires is a business owner’s main job. Can’t is not an option anymore.