Chef Eric Villegas said his whole life has been a matter of being in the right place at the right time.
As a culinary specialist with the Taste of Home Cooking School, that time and place is 7 p.m. April 10 at DeKalb’s Egyptian Theatre, 135 N. Second St., to share home cooking tips and tricks while demonstrating step-by-step recipes. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. for attendees to visit vendors in the theater lobby. The show is sponsored by the Daily Chronicle, B95 FM and Paulsen Appliance.
The Taste of Home Cooking School is America’s leading cooking school program, inspiring more than 300,000 home chefs at about 300 events annually nationwide. Attendees experience recipe demonstrations using ingredients easily found at the local grocery store, and recipes are submitted by home cooks from across the country.
In a recent phone interview, Villegas said his family always loved entertaining.
“My parents were both from South America, and their love of entertaining is pretty typical of South Americans,” he said. “They always had these great dinner parties and my dad would draw up elaborate menus.
“There was all the pomp and circumstance of preparing for the party, and I thought it was the greatest thing ever.”
After completing his bachelor’s degree at Michigan State University, Villegas said his father sent him to culinary school in France, “because he was eager to see me to succeed.”
Villegas said his father wanted to open a restaurant. He told his father he learned nothing about restaurant management or making restaurant food. “It was a true cuisine school,” he said.
So, back to school he went at the New England Culinary Institute where he taught after graduating.
He said eventually he owned two restaurants with his father for more than 20 years.
“Again, I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time,” Villegas said. “I did a television show for PBS and wrote some cookbooks.”
But the 2008 economic collapse forced Villegas into semi-retirement.
“The business atmosphere went down the drain and there was just too much stress,” he said. “It was time to forget the restaurant business.”
It was during his semi-retirement that he was asked to set up an exhibitor booth with his cookbooks at a Taste of Home Cooking School.
“They took me into the main room and I saw this 2 1/2 hour cooking show and knew I had to be part of it,” Villegas said. “They hired me, literally, a week later.”
Today, he’s one of nine chefs that serve as the live marketing arm for Taste of Home.
“I have a ball meeting all the wonderful people that come to our shows, I get to travel the country and I love to drive,” Villegas said. “My region is the entire United States.”
He said each show is different.
“We all cook the same recipes, but all our shows are completely different,” Villegas said. “Nobody does what we do.”
Taste of Home Cooking School
When: 7 p.m. April 10; doors open at 5:30 p.m. for vendors in the lobby. New Taste of Home cookbooks will be available for purchase before and after the show.
Where: Egyptian Theatre, 135 N. Second St., DeKalb
Tickets: $12 for regular seating; $20 for premium seating closer to the stage; $50 for VIP tickets which include a free Taste of Home cookbook, an exclusive meet-and-greet with Chef Eric before the show and exclusive early access to vendors in the lobby. Tickets are available at www.egyptiantheatre.org or call the box office at 815-758-1225.
More: Attendees will receive a gift bag including the Taste of Home Cooking School magazine, coupons from national food companies and chances to win door prizes.