By Linda McIntosh
Andrea Scala never thought that following her passion for cooking would lead her to Hollywood. It took years for Scala to decide to go to culinary school, and the very month she graduated, Scala appeared on the Food Network in "Grill It! with Bobby Flay."
Scala got the spot after beating out competitors across the country with her spunky cooking video and recipe for breakfast on the grill with a Mexican twist. Her dish featured eggs prepared on the grill, scrambled and sunny side up, with a fiery-red salsa and marinated pork.
"Not everybody thinks of cooking eggs on the grill," said Scala, a Carmel Valley resident. "But San Diego is a perfect place to experiment on the grill, because the weather is always right for it."
The episode, which aired Aug. 23, was called "Eggstravaganza." It was Scala's first time on TV, and just a few feet away from her on the set of a Hollywood backyard, celebrity chef Bobby Flay was whipping up an Argentinean breakfast theme. Filming took about four hours for the 20-minute episode.
"The hard part was talking to the camera and to Flay and cooking at the same time," Scala said. "He made it look so easy."
But the show was not a competition.
"The idea was, 'Let's grill together and see what we get,' " Scala said. She was among 15 guests invited to appear on different episodes.
"The best part was when the plating was done and we saw the finished product," Scala said. "He tasted mine and approved of the way I had cooked the eggs."
With that seal of approval and her degree from the San Diego Culinary Institute in La Mesa (along with the institute's Harold Meyberg award for culinary excellence), Scala is launching a second career in the culinary arts.
"Andrea has the drive, and already in her short career, she's doing amazing things," said Kai Peyrefitte, chef instructor at the San Diego Culinary Institute.
Peyrefitte, who coaches and manages the institute's Culinary Team, recalled how Scala did everything she could to get on the team, which travels throughout the West Coast for national and international competitions at the professional level.
"The best quality about Scala is that she'll keep working at something until she masters it," Peyrefitte said.
Scala got an unusual head start on her culinary career during her 10 years as a cardiology physician assistant, coaching patients in healthy cooking. But that, of course, was only a taste of what she wants to do as a cooking instructor and caterer.
"I want people to see that cooking is fun, and that it's not that hard to make something that tastes good and is healthy," Scala said.
Scala is a cooking instructor at the Prado Cooking School above the Prado restaurant in Balboa Park. She also has volunteered as an assistant at cooking classes given at Barbeques Galore Outdoor Cooking School and Macy's.
Combining her culinary skills and teaching abilities, Scala gives private cooking lessons and "cooking parties," and caters small gatherings. Scala created a Web site with information about her services and photographs of her culinary creations .
"I want people to come away from my class learning something new — maybe a technique or maybe some new ingredients," Scala said.
Scala is set on keeping her classes fun and light. "I admire many things about Bobby Flay, his knowledge of ingredients and his tips, but most of all, how he kept things light-hearted on the show," Scala said. "He made it clear cooking should be fun."
Scala, a native of upstate New York, traces her love of cooking to her Italian grandmother. "Out of four kids, I was always the one next to her in the kitchen," Scala said.
Starting when she was 7 years old, Scala helped her grandmother prepare everything from pancakes to pasta. Pasta is still a favorite on Scala's menu.
"If I had to eat something every day, it would be pasta because there's so much variety," Scala said. "It's not just spaghetti and meatballs; last week, I made red vodka cream sauce with gnocchi."
When Scala talks about cooking, she talks not only about the results, but the process.
"Cooking is an experience you can share with anyone — friends, family — it's in everyone's life."
Looking back at the days in her grandmother's kitchen, Scala recalled the sense of pride in preparing a good meal.
"It made me happy to see everyone enjoying the meal we made. I guess I haven't changed."
On the Web
www.foodnetwork.com, search 'Andrea Scala' for her 'Breakfast San Diego Style' and 'San Diego Sunrise' recipes from the Aug. 23 broadcast.
www.andreaatyourtable.com, for information about Scala's other culinary creations.